Ask a Parent: 4-Year-Old Resisting Shots

Q: My 4-year-old son was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and has been resisting his injections. What can I do to give him his shots without a struggle?

A: My granddaughter was also diagnosed at age 4, and I remember the overwhelming feelings of fear, sadness, and confusion our entire family dealt with in those first few months. A child has a lot to deal with after being diagnosed. Trying to avoid shots or making inappropriate food choices is a common way children try to regain a feeling of control or normality in their lives. Think about the confusion, worry, or moments of hopelessness you may have felt at times. Your son is going through some of the same emotions and is simply expressing them in his own way. On top of all that, he’s only 4 years old.

But let me reassure you: It gets better! In our case, it took patience and consistency, but our granddaughter was soon thriving, doing her own testing within a couple of years, and amazing us with her awesome spirit and bravery. That said, let me share with you some of the techniques we’ve had some success with:

  • By acknowledging your son’s fears, you can help him know that it’s okay to express the feelings that might be coming out in other ways. Rather than telling him that shots or needle sticks don’t hurt; sympathize with him and ask what might make it easier.
  • Give him some prep time before shots or tests. Telling him you’re going to do it in five minutes rather than just springing it on him might make it easier to take.
  • Be calm when giving tests or injections. Children can pick up on their parents’ anxieties and grow anxious themselves.
  • Tell your son to take three very deep breaths, and give the injection with the last breath. That will help to alleviate some of the pain he feels with the prick. Breathing along with him will help you both relax.
  • Gently stroking the skin at the point of injection before and after administering the shot can also help him relax and relieve pain. Of course, your endocrinologist may have more suggestions.
  • And finally, remember that diabetes is a learning process for the whole family. Though it will take some time to become comfortable with your son’s diabetic needs, continue to seek information so that you can come up to speed as quickly as possible. In doing that, your family will feel more empowered to help him, and your hearts and minds will be more at peace.

Have a question? Go to the JDRF Online Diabetes Support Team.