LHM Kidz – Helping your child with a needle phobia

By Dr Kathryn Thomson – Clinical Psychologist, Paediatric Cardiology and PICU


When a child has a needle phobia, they are frightened of medical procedures involving needles or injections. It’s not uncommon for children to feel frightened and worry that the needle will hurt them.

Understandably, this may elicit difficult feelings for parents who are seeing their child distressed. This article aims to provide tips and tricks to help manage medical procedures involving injections.


 1. Exploring needles and injections through play

If age appropriate, you could play with your child where one of you, or a toy, pretends to be the doctor or nurse and the other person is a patient. Perhaps you could use an object, such as a pen, and pretend it is a syringe of medicine. This can help familiarise your child to needles and injections and let them know that the intention of the medical professional is to help the child.


 2. Discussing hospitals

Talk to your child about how they find the hospital, what they like and what they dislike. Maybe they’ve been to Bristol Children’s Hospital and like the talking lifts! If anything comes up that they dislike, see if there any things that you can do to make it better. For example, if they mention not liking the hospital food, see if there are any of their favourite snacks that you can take with you.


  3. Discussing difficult experiences

It may be that your child has had some challenging experiences in the past with needles. Explore if their fear of needles is related to anything in the past. If your child is younger, having a conversation whilst doing an activity, such as drawing a picture or doing a puzzle, may enable them to open up more.


  4. Discussing difficult experiences

If age appropriate, have a conversation with your child in advance about how much notice they would like before having a medical procedure involving needles. Some children would rather not know as it causes their worry to build up whereas others may become distressed if they do not know in advance as they have not had time to prepare, feel out of control and scared.


 5. Preparing for the medical appointment

If your child would rather know when they have a medical procedure coming up, letting them know a few days in advance may help. If your child is younger, you could pack a hospital bag together of things they can bring to comfort themselves such as teddies or objects to distract themselves with.

Plan in advance what you could do afterwards to celebrate such as going to a park together, getting a hot chocolate or having their favourite meal for dinner.

If your child is coming into hospital, see if there is a hospital passport system in place. This will give information to the medical team about important aspects of your child’s routine, signs they may be distressed, their communication needs, their likes and dislikes.


 6. Creating a poke plan!

It can be helpful to put together a ‘poke plan’ with your child to help give them as much control as possible when having any injection or procedure with a needle. Here are some things to consider with the poke plan:

  • Let your child pick which arm or hand the needle will go into
  • Agree with your child if they would rather look at the needle or look away
  • Ask the team to let your child know how long the procedure will take
  • Whether you’d like to do a relaxing activity together beforehand with your child to help them feel calmer. An example is balloon breathing, a breathing technique where you imagine a balloon of any colour is in your tummy. Breathe in through your nose, imagine the balloon in your tummy fills up with air and watch your tummy rise. Breathe out through your mouth, imagine the balloon in your tummy deflates and your tummy goes back down
  • Identify a cue word! Ask your child to come up with a cue word for when they are ready for the injection or needle to be inserted. This could be “ready, steady, go” or something completely different like “bananas”. Let the team know this word when they have their procedure.
  • Pick a distraction activity to do it with your child when they having the needle inserted. You could play a game on a phone or iPad for this. Alternatively you could pick a category, such as farm animals, ice cream flavours or superheroes, and name as many different things in that category as you can think of
  • Let your child know it’s completely fine to make noise. Maybe they could pick an animal beforehand, like a lion, and roar when having the injection or needle inserted
  • Ask your child how they would like to celebrate afterwards! Perhaps a cheer, a clap or a high five!


 7. Remaining calm as a parent

As a parent you may find it stressful or upsetting if your child is scared around needles. Is there anyone in your support network who you could talk to about these feelings? Sometimes parents may feel frustrated at their child who may be scared and refusing procedures. It’s important to remain calm and let your child that it’s ok to be scared. Let your child know that they are not on their own, are not in trouble and they’ve got you to help them. Ask if there’s anything you can do to make the situation easier for them.