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A new study out of York University’s Opportunities to Understand Childhood Hurt (O.U.C.H.) ­Laboratory has found that more than 50 per cent of children are fearful and anxious before a needle or vaccination.

More than 200 Greater Toronto Area parents and children between the ages of four and five were involved in the study, which looked at what could predict preschool children’s fear of needles. According to York psychology Professor Rebecca Pillai Riddell, this is an important time to examine fear because many childhood phobias begin around this age, and being afraid of needles during childhood can impact how much you seek medical care in the future.

“We observed how these children behaved before their needles and after their needles when they were infants and preschoolers,” says Pillai Riddell.

“We also observed how parents interacted with their children, and the types of things they said to their children during infancy and at the preschool age. We were interested in whether pain-responding and parent behaviour during infancy predicted needle fear at preschool.”

Parents were surveyed about how scared they were before the needle, and how scared they thought their children were. As well, health-care professionals involved in the process were observed before the children received their needles.

Researchers not only found a very strong relationship between children’s fear of needles before their preschool vaccination and their parents’ behaviour at that time, but also found that parents’ behaviour during infant vaccinations was predictive of preschool needle fear.

“Our research illustrates the importance of developing ­interventions to help parents support and coach their children during painful medical procedures from infancy onwards,” says Pillai Riddell. Other researchers involved in the study included York Professor David Flora and lead author Nicole Racine.

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