How to talk to children about getting their COVID-19 vaccine

Children need parental guidance when getting a vaccine, psychologist John Callanan says. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

Bribery, lies, subterfuge and restraint are naturally top of a parent's toolkit when it comes to needles.

But it might shock you to hear that honesty may also work.

As children aged 5 to 12 are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination, it may come as no surprise the kids might be a little less than enthusiastic about getting the jab.

Darwin Children's Clinic psychologist John Callanan recommends keeping the discussion simple and honest.

"Tell the kids something like: 'you're going to get a needle to protect you from COVID. You'll be safe. I'll be there'," he told ABC Radio Darwin Drive.

"You might also tell them: 'it's going to hurt a little bit'.

"Parents often think the more I tell my child about it, the better it'll be, the more they understand.

"But that has a paradoxical influence, because the child, particularly those little ones, tend to think: 'mum and dad are talking a lot about this. Maybe it's worse than I think it's going to be'."

Dr Callanan recommends parents be truthful but economical with their comments about getting vaccinated.  (Supplied: Darwin Children's Clinic)

The moon on a stick

The promise of a treat like a sweet or toy to entice children to sit for the vaccination might feel harmless enough but there could be consequences in the long run, Dr Callanan warned.

"If you want to develop a little negotiator for the rest of their lives, that'll work well," he said.

"It sets up a habit sometimes where kids end up being really good at negotiating outcomes: 'if I do these things, I get things', rather than 'when I do these things, I get a whole pile of love from mum and dad by them saying they're proud of me'."

Telling kids to "be brave" might also fall on deaf ears.

"These little ones don't know what brave means," he said.

Tell them the truth? Really?

Dr Callanan said making statements about the experience could be helpful.

"First say to them, 'you're a bit worried about it'. And 'yeah, it's going to hurt a little'," he said.

"They're highly reliant on their parents to make it sound like it's going to be OK."

Well-intended protective parents might be economical with the truth.

"Not a good idea," he said.

"It's like, 'well, you lied to me'. And I don't mean that the kids are going to say that.

"But the little ones are really, really looking at their parents and listening to the tone of voice and facial expressions."

How to speak to your kids about their COVID-19 vaccination

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