Supporting children with vaccination: A Red Cross mom shares her story

By Robyn Emde, mental health and psychosocial support lead, Canadian Red Cross

It’s one thing to plan and prepare teams to support children aged 5 to 11 years old for the COVID-19 vaccination, it is an entirely different experience to support your own children through this experience.

I work at the Red Cross as the mental health and psychosocial support lead for COVID-19 operations in British Columbia. Our teams on the ground have been providing support to community members who choose to have their COVID-19 vaccination in large, small, and mobile health authority clinics throughout B.C. We know that the pandemic has been really long and hard for a lot of people, so we aim to ensure our clinic spaces are as safe and supportive as possible. I’m proud of the work we have done to support the health authorities to ensure all community members are welcomed and supported through the vaccination experience.
Two small children and a woman holding up stickers
When we heard that 5- to 11-year-olds were next to be vaccinated, our teams got to work. Key phrases to use with children, relaxation techniques, distraction techniques, and activities for the post-vaccination area were all discussed and shared with teams. We have been ready for this for a couple of months now.

Yesterday, I put that all to the test as I came to the Vernon COVID-19 Vaccination Centre as a mom of Piper (age 7) and Lochlan (age 5), pictured right.

In our family, we talk about our health a lot and the things we need to do to maintain it – exercise, drink lots of water, veggies, veggies, veggies, and getting vaccinated to protect ourselves and the ones we love. The COVID-19 vaccination was no exception. We talked a lot about it and prepared as much as we could; however, when we got to the vaccination centre my kids were nervous.

All other vaccinations my children have received have been at the doctor’s office or at the public health unit, the COVID-19 clinics are very large in comparison and can be quite overwhelming – this was the experience of my children walking in.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw my red-vested colleagues and how thoughtfully they had set up this clinic. The children had a separate entrance, vaccination area, privacy area, and post-vaccination area from the rest of the community members being vaccinated that day. We were greeted by nurses to register (who commented on how helpful and supportive the Red Cross is) and before we spoke with the nurse about the vaccine, my kids were offered paper activities and stickers to choose from to distract them while they waited for their vaccine and in the post-vaccination area.

Post-it notes with words written on them stuck to a wallIt was special to see the “Wall of Encouragement” which was set up with post-it notes from kids who had come through with encouraging words for others who were nervous or scared. This put my kids at ease, for a little while anyways.

When we got to the vaccination, their nerves kicked up again. My daughter started to squirm and said she was scared, but the nurse was swift and kind – it was over quickly!

My son was hiding behind my chair the whole time. He started to cry before I got him out from behind the chair. At this point, my colleague Dana (Safety and Wellbeing Supervisor for the site) came to my rescue to bring my daughter to a chair close by and keep her company with a colouring page while I supported my son (this was one of those parenting moments where you wish you had more than two arms!). It took a lollipop, Netflix on my phone, and a lot of tears, but my son got vaccinated.

We all sat at a child’s table in the post-vaccination area, did a word search, and filled out our post-it notes for the “Words of Encouragement” wall. My daughter wrote “You are a COVID super-hero!!!” My son wrote “I love you.” We all high-fived because we are halfway to being protected from COVID-19! We are so excited!

A post-it note with the words I love you written on it, stuck to a wallLater that night, my son was sitting on my lap and said “Mommy, for my next shot I’m going to write on my post-it ‘You can be scared, and you can be brave’.” We discussed how being nervous is completely normal and we can be brave at the same time, and how important it was that he overcame his fear to keep himself, the family, and his community safe.

Both the kids showed how brave they were, I am so proud of them, and because of the Red Cross, they remember the support they were given when they were nervous, the fun activities they shared with the staff, and the “Wall of Encouragement” which reminds them that they are not alone and why it is worth being brave.
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