“I don’t want to get shots,” she whispered in my ear. She always whispers when she has something important to say.
“Why not?” I asked her.
“For how long do you think they will hurt?”
“Only a minute,” she replied.
“Do you remember why we do shots? It’s so we can stay healthy. You have 2 more shots that you have to do. Do you think you can do them?”
“I don’t know.”
“Okay, well you can think about it and we can ask the doctor any questions you have. If you decide not to do them, we won’t do them this time.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. She trusts me.
And she should.
I am her mommy.
This is a conversation we had 2 times in the days prior to Rebecca’s 5 year old well appointment. She likes going to the pediatrician but was feeling anxious about getting shots.
Who can blame her, right?
Shots aren’t fun for me and if I can avoid them, I do.
I tried not to bring it up too much in the days leading up to the appointment. I didn’t want to make her anxiety worse. She knew she had a decision to make and at 5 years old, I put her in charge of that decision. Whenever I can, I let my children choose for themselves. My goal in raising kids is to raise kids that are confident in their own decision making skills. They are more than capable of making hard decisions with my support – they always have my support.
The afternoon before her appointment, we found ourselves at the pediatrician’s office for one of the older girls. At the end of the appointment I asked Rebecca if she had any questions for the doctor about her visit the following day. Rebecca looked at the ground and said, “I have to get shots but I hate shots.” Our pediatrician who is amazing showed her empathy. “I know,” she said, “shots aren’t fun. Do you know why we get shots?” Rebecca told her that we get shots to stay healthy. Our pediatrician told Rebecca that we also get shots to keep others healthy. That’s why kids need to get their shots to go to school. That really resonated with Rebecca because she LOVES school.
Later that night as she was picking out her clothes, she said, “I want to wear short sleeves tomorrow so that everyone can see my bandaid after my shots.” I said okay and we continued to get ready for bed. It wasn’t a discussion. It didn’t need to be.
Every day I am working hard to teach our girls to respect others and that other people need to respect them. I’m teaching them that no means no, whatever the cost. That means when they say that someone can’t touch their body, with hands or even a needle, no one can touch their body. Their body is theirs and they own the rights to it. Even our pediatrician begins every appointment with, “Is it okay if I lift up your shirt to look at your stomach? No one should ever touch your body if you say they can’t and no one should ever touch your body if your parents aren’t here.”
These are the boundaries I want our children to know how to set on their own. They are getting that support and practice with me now but in a few short years they’re going to be faced with situations where I won’t be there to support them.
A lot of people want to know what would I have done if Rebecca chose to not get her vaccines. If she hadn’t agreed, she just wouldn’t have gotten them this particular day. The vaccines that she was getting today (Polio and a booster shot) weren’t time sensitive. I would have let her know that we would have revisited the idea the next day or the next week and maybe she’d change her mind then. And if school came and she didn’t have them done? I’m pretty confident that she’d get them done so that she could go to school. She’s 5 and school is magical
I’m not debating people’s stances on vaccines. Vaccines are something we choose for our family. I’m also not debating whether or not you should let your own 5 year old make big choices for themselves. This is something we did in our family. However, we didn’t take this decision lightly.
Listen, I’ve been the parent who held my child down for a vaccine while she screamed and cried. It felt horrible and wrong and against every belief that I wanted one of my daughters to have. It felt horrible for me and I know it felt horrible for her. I vowed I’d never do it again. And I haven’t.
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Kristina Grum is a Certified Parent Educator who has over a decade of experience working with children, including being a classroom teacher. She currently teaches parenting classes in her local area and writes about shifting parenthood from barely surviving to thriving.
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