One of the things I dreaded most about being a new mother was taking my child to shots. The forethought and stressful strategic planning before, during and after the appointments with shots were the absolute worst. I dreaded those appointments as much as I dread going to my own doctor to get weighed. But then, something changed.
How it Started
After our son was diagnosed with severe environmental allergies at age two, we had to come to a family decision on how to treat his allergies. We had two opinions from top doctors--sublingual immunotherapy or allergy shots--and with our son's history and severity of allergies, we settled on the dreaded (notice a trend here?) allergy shots. And the news kept getting...less savory. And way more intimidating. In fact, I really didn't believe I had the courage to take our four-year-old son to allergy shots twice a week, and two shots each day--one in each arm. That's four shots a week. For nine months. Then after those nine months, the shots spread out to once a month for three to five more years. Which feels way more doable, weirdly. Because years can feel long.
During our first few months of shot appointments, our son would scream bloody murder during his shots and cry, cry, and cry. Even though he chose to get the shots (he desperately wants a dog and to stay in school during pollen season). But that doesn't mean it's not terrifying, especially for a young child. I believe deeply in the importance of a child's agency in making these big decisions, because they have to be on board psychologically. The mind is a powerful tool.
We've been going to allergy shots for several months now, and while our son doesn't resist going or care much, he still has the same trauma response of screaming and crying like crazy when he gets the shots. And honestly? That's not really our son's character. Even though he's 4.5, he's insanely brave. He's been through a lot with all the food and environmental allergy appointments. I didn't expect him to take this in stride, but I also didn't expect it to be so traumatizing, including for myself.
I dug deep in my mama heart today when I was driving us to his allergy shot appointment. I thought to myself, "I don't think I can do this anymore. I don't think I can hold this boy screaming and crying for seven more months and then monthly for three to five more years." And it's not like me to want to give up, so I just dug deep and let my mama intuition kick in. I thought, "There's got to be a better way than how we've been doing it." And yes! Praise everything there is!
Here's what I did (and it worked).
As we were driving to the allergy shots appointment, I told my four-and-a half-year-old son, "You know what? I have this crazy thing I want to tell you. You are so insanely brave." (Boys usually love using words like insane, disgusting, or freak out!)
I then let my mama intuition take over the story. I said, "I can't believe you unbuckle your own seat belt like a big boy, walk into the doctor's office like 'no big deal' (insert me acting with a calm cool-kid side eye), walk straight up to the shots area, pull your shirt off! (I say this awestruck/gobsmacked), and tell the nurse, 'Ready for my shot.' No big deal. I got this. I don't even cry or anything. It's seriously, like, no big deal. Just get it over with so I can hurry up and go play Uno and beat my mom again at cards."
Okay, so what happened here?
I told my son a story (of what I knew he could do) in past tense, as if he had already done it. I made up this completely untrue story, but made it really real for him by using his language, including his habits and things he loved to do (play Uno after the shot while he waits). He ate it up. He walked right into the allergist's office, checked in, pulled his shirt off in the waiting room (the area for allergy shots is connected to the waiting room), walked up to the nurse giving shots, and said, "I'm ready!" He looked at me and said, "Mom, I don't need you. Stay there. I don't need help. It's no big deal."
And he proceeded to have an entirely different shot experience than every appointment before. Even the nurse was flabbergasted! I'm sure her mouth was gaping open under her mask when she saw how different our son reacted from his shots fiascos every prior appointment.
And he get's two shots each time he goes, right? So I thought, well maybe the first shot was a fluke. But, nope! Second shot was jus the same. He stood there like a champ and...like it was no big deal. He walked back from his shot and laughed! He said, "See mom! No big deal at all. I did it." He felt so good about earning his bravery and achieving a goal he knew he was capable of but needed someone else to believe it, too.
As a product of olympic-level sports training and dealing with coaches ranging from public high school to USA Olympic levels, I know this one thing from my lived experiences: To perform well, you have to find an incredible coach that knows your potential, believes in you, and shows you your potential through words of affirmation, awards, or however the individual player responds best. And that's a big driver of how you develop peak performance. To be honest, some of my highest achieving years were with my public high school varsity coach, Barry Gorodnick, who knew me like a family member and believed in me deeply. He made me feel...special. And important. And that feeling lead me to lean even more into my leadership roles as team captain and it made me more brave. When you're a leader, you have to be brave. So there it was...I was doing the same thing for my son.
A Little Backstory
My mother, a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, who studied player-coach dyads and peak performance, would tell you that a player-coach (mom-child) dyad needs to establish trust to achieve peak performance. And the only way to establish trust is through shared experiences over time. So this "trick" to get your child to tolerate shots and consider them "no big deal," can likely be done after several years. Meaning, maybe around three years of age when you've established trust and your child is more understanding of the concepts and nuances in language and communication. My son is four-an-a-half as I write this article, so go easy on yourself if you don't feel your child is grasping what you're telling them. Keep trying and keep tapping into your mama (or papa) intuition. Every child is different, but I do know this, every child is capable of being brave. It's just about how you approach the scenarios, prepare them, believe in them, and then show them their potential--however they need to see or hear it.
The story I told my son really came alive in his head and he believed he could get his shots without screaming and crying in a much gentler and more effective way than me saying, "Ollie, don't cry! Don't scream. It's not that painful!" Something about being a mama-in-a-serious-pinch sometimes spurs this really miraculous kind of thinking in me. It's kind of witchy(?!), and I'm so glad my intuition pulled through in a big way for us. Praise!
And you have to watch this video to believe me. It's truly insane.
I can't believe it worked and I'm grateful to all the Gods, Goddesses, ancestors, and stars above. I wasn't sure my mama heart could handle the trauma. And I'm sure it won't be the last time. But now I have this article to come back to when I get in another pinch and need to remind myself of how I got through hundreds (thousands?) and years of shots with my four year old son.
Being a parent is so rewarding and enriching but it can be really exhausting and challenging. We’re forced to learn and apply things we never imagined when we pictured life with a baby. Trying to figure out how to get my child to tolerate shots definitely was not on my Pinterest board. But the trauma of going through it was so worth it--I'm so glad we came up with a new, successful way to do this.
Just by being here and reading this article, you are doing a great job! Let me say it again, you are doing a great job! Keep it up. It's not easy. Sending you all my love, hugs, and support. You’ve got this.