Flu Shots: Drama not Trauma

Shortly after my first darling baby was born, she had to get injections with needles that looked to me to be about ten feet long. She was screaming so much, I thought I would faint. Instead, I was asked to clench her so as to facilitate administration of more immunizations. I thought she would never forgive me this betrayal.

A few years later, we were back at the doctor’s office for more shots. My toddler began to scream. Still, she seemed not to be thrashing, so I was not asked to hold her. From across the room, I tried to comfort her. I was whispering anxiously: “Mama’s going to get you a nice ice-cream right after this, sweetheart, I promise - your favorite flavor” even though it was only 8:30 in the morning. In the midst of her wailing, my daughter paused briefly to ask: “two scoops?” My jaw dropped in disbelief that she had enough wits about her to negotiate the deal. In that moment, I had learned the difference between drama and trauma.

Fast-forward to my second toddler. I was smarter this time, and I was not about to be put through an emotional ringer again. I did not prepare the child, I did not offer any ice-cream at all, and worse, I had no pity. The poor child, nursing her arm, eyed me suspiciously and took no pleasure in the giant vat of stickers offered to her. For days afterwards, anywhere we went, she grilled me: “are there going to be shots there?”

Clearly, my resentment about having been put through the emotional ringer with the first toddler had taken its toll on the poor second toddler, who, like all second children, was suffering from my benign neglect.

The moral of the story is that, as a parent, you can never do anything just right. But you can learn a lot. What I learned is that somewhere between fainting from anxiety or denying that anything at all bad is about to happen, is a middle ground. Maybe, I found that middle ground once I understood about "two scoops"; drama is not trauma even if the screaming tends to sound the same.

Once I finally recognized the difference, I was able to prepare my children for their shots without offering them five million dollars or ignoring them completely. Right before their visit, perhaps an hour before, I let them know what is ahead. After 8 years of age, if they really don’t feel ready for their shot, I schedule another appointment; it’s a great way to teach a child that their body is theirs to control. If they still need to fuss and cry, I enjoy comforting them.

I was amazed last week, so many years after I had almost fainted, to find myself sitting once again in the doctor's office, and this time, feeling amazingly grateful for immunizations. We are, after all, so lucky for modern medicine - keeping all of our beautiful, expressive children healthy and safe.

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