Taking your child to get a flu shot is a parenting rite of passage that usually requires bargaining, maybe some lying, and you both may end up crying.
Health Humor Parenting

Getting Your Kid a Flu Shot: 7 Stages of Grief

Taking your child to get a flu shot is a parenting rite of passage that usually requires bargaining, maybe some lying, and you both may end up crying.

By Heather Osterman-Davis

Flu season is upon us, and that means one thing.  Parents everywhere are faced with the dilemma about the flu vaccine – “How the Heck Do I Get My Kid to Take It?” Saying my son is scared of needles is kind of like saying the Antarctic is filled with ice. Strike that, was filled with ice.  This year it struck me that this process is shockingly similar to Kubler-Ross’ seven stages of grief. 

 Step One – Denial

This step exists only in the time before you actually step foot into the doctor’s office, where despite all contrary evidence, you believe this time will be different, that your kid will happily roll up their sleeve, smile at the nurse and say, “I’m ready to have my immunity strengthened.” Then after the shot, they’ll go home and ask for Spinach and Lima beans for dinner.  This year, I didn’t even make it to the clinic door before my son turned to me and proclaimed, “I’m not going in.”  Yet, still in denial, a part of me held on to hope, believing I’d get mine first and he’d see how easy it was. I was wrong. Very wrong. 

Step Two – Reasoning

Much like the New Year’s Diet resolution, this step is an utter waste of time.  Healthy diets don’t start on impulse and hangover and kids aren’t convinced by logic or facts. Still, you try.  You start off calmly, with phrases like, “It will only hurt a minute but will protect you for months,” or “You don’t want to get sick, do you?  What’s worse? A small shot now, or being violently ill later?” 

My kid’s answer, of course, was the shot is worse and he’ll take the possibility of puke, pain and punishment later.  I don’t know why I’d expect anything else. My son, like most kids,  lives entirely in the now, even after watching a video of the Stanford Marshmallow experiment and explaining the science behind it. My son will still eat the single marshmallow every time.

Step Three – Bargaining 

Once reasoning has tanked, you go into Bargaining. Here’s where you offer your kid an incentive, or let’s call it what it is – a bribe — if they’ll just take the shot.  But the problem is at this point, your kid knows they have you over a barrel and push it too far.  

“If you do this we’ll have pizza for dinner.” 

“Every night for a week?” 

“How about two?” 

“Every night and Roblux bucks.” 

“I can’t do that.” 

“Okay, no shot then.” 

Step Four – Creativity 

After bribery tanks, you get fully desperate and dig up some creative parenting techniques, like trying to make it into a game, closing your eyes and taking deep breaths and creating silly scenarios.

“Imagine it’s a mosquito biting you and it will give you super powers.”

“I hate mosquitos and I already have super powers.”

“Maybe your super power is being super brave and taking this shot.”  

“No, my powers mean I don’t need the shot.”

 “Okay, well then imagine if you take this shot, Donald Trump will go away.”

“Will that really happen? Because if it will, I’ll take three shots.”

“No, it won’t really happen.”

“Neither will this shot.”

Step Five – Anger/Despair  

By step five, you’re losing your patience in a big way and start raising your voice, alternating between pleading, shaming, and threatening.  “There are other people waiting.  Look, that two-year-old just did it without crying.  I don’t understand it, why can’t you just take the darn shot?! I’m going to take away screen time tonight. No, the whole week. No, until you’re eighteen.” 

Anger doesn’t help because, well, it never does. Not when you’re telling your kid for the 410th time to put on their shoes and not with the flu shot.  So, you pull it together and switch gears.

Step Six – Lying

This is where you’re desperate enough to lie to your kid, against your personal moral code, and tell him you’re going to ask the nurse for the non-pinching needle.  The nurse is surprisingly down with this, likely out of desperation to get you out of there, and backs you up like a pro. Your kid is deeply suspicious.  

“There’s a kid one? What does it feel like?” 

The nurse picks up the cap to a needle and pokes it in his arm. “Just like that.”

“I want to see the needle; show me the needle.”

At that point, I realize the hole in this plan. Not only is this impossible, but even if we do convince him, he will realize I lied to him and never trust me again. So I back pedal. 

 “Well, it’s still a needle,” I say, “it just hurts less.” 

This is technically true because any little needle that goes in his arm will hurt less than the chainsaw he’s imagining.  

“I want to see it,” he says.

Realizing you’re boxed in, you weep and confess.

Step Seven – Acceptance

At this point you finally accept that you’re either going to have to give up or use brute force.  You kiss your child on the forehead and say, “I’m sorry, love, but this will only hurt a second.”  Then you hold your kid tight and tell the nurse to just do it.  Seconds later, Band-Aid on and lollipop in hand, your kid turns to you and shrugs, “That really wasn’t that bad.”


About the Author

Heather Osterman-Davis lives in New York City with her husband and two children where she attempts to balance creative and domestic endeavors. Housework is permanently losing. Some of her writing may be found in Time; Creative Nonfiction; River Teeth; Tin House; BrainChild; Parent.co; Literary Mama; and Tribe among others. You can find her on Twitter @heatherosterman