Needle Phobia: Helping Your Child Get Over Their Fear

At IMC, we often see children or teenagers who are distressed because they can’t seem to overcome their fear of needles, or they have anxiety when they need to see a doctor and/or dentist because they are afraid to experience pain.

Helping children overcome this fear requires a combination of understanding, patience, and gradual exposure.

The first step is to build trust and a good rapport with the child. This means spending time getting to know the child, talking about the child’s interests, and making the child feel comfortable. It also means providing as much information as you can to explain procedures and treatments in a child-friendly manner. At this point, children may be invited to share any questions they may have about the procedure.

Techniques to reduce anxiety usually involve play therapy or visualization techniques to help the child understand and cope with medical procedures. This can involve using dolls, toys, or drawing pictures to simulate the situation. Next, it involves gradually introducing the child to a medical environment. Start with simple visits where there is no medical procedures involved. This helps the child associate the doctor’s office with positive experiences.

One of the main techniques to help is called desensitization: it involves gradually introducing the child to the idea of needles (or the sign of a doctor or nurse). This can include showing them a syringe, explaining how the syringe works, or using play medical kits. It is important to use positive reinforcement by praising the child for their bravery and co-operation. Offering small rewards after their first medical appointment where there is no medical procedure, can help create positive associations.

Bringing your child into the decision-making process when it’s appropriate gives them confidence in their future treatment. Allowing them some degree of control over the situation can reduce anxiety. As parents and professionals, it’s important for you to demonstrate calm and relaxed behaviour because children often pick up on the emotions of those around them, so maintaining a calm and reassuring demeanour can be beneficial. Create a child-friendly environment to ensure that your child feels safe and secure during visits.

To prevent traumatic experiences, it is important for professionals to not hold a child firmly and force a medical act on them by all means. They can also work closely with the psychologist to explore more suitable techniques to help the child and avoid traumatisation.

Overcoming fears takes time, and progress may be slow. Both parents and professionals need to be patient to find the right techniques for the child’s individual needs and comfort level. Maintaining open communication among professionals, parents, and the child is important to ensure a collaborative and supportive approach. If the fear persists and significantly interferes with the child’s well-being, consider involving a child psychologist or therapist who specializes in anxiety or phobias.

This article is written by Emmanuelle O’Grady – IMC’s Principal Clinical Psychologist (Child & Adolescent).

Emmanuelle works at IMC Children’s, located at Camden Medical Centre #14-02. To book an appointment to see her, please click here and select “Request Appointment”; or for enquiries please email [email protected] or call 6733 4440 (extension 2).

Emmanuelle O’Grady

Principal Clinical Psychologist (Child & Adolescent)

Languages: English and French

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