On this page
You play an important role as the ‘older young person’ to younger siblings, cousins and other little loved ones. Depending on your cultural and family values, they may look to you as a role model, or see you as a central point of trusted guidance and support. Needles can feel scary for 5 to 11-year-olds now able to get their COVID-19 vaccinations, but you can be a helpful and supportive role model – here are some ideas to get started.
1. You can be a role model in a way older figures aren’t
Older role models like parents, aunties, uncles, godparents and other carers are important figures to children. But as a young person, you can be a role model in a more relatable way. Children can more easily ‘see themselves’ in you, which can make them keen to copy what you do. Seeing you talk about getting vaccinated as something positive, for example, can make children feel interested and safe when it’s their turn.
You can check in with an older carer figure like the child’s parent, aunty or uncle, or grandparents. Share that you think it’s important that the child gets vaccinated, and respectfully ask about talking to the child about it. For example, you can say: “I thought of a simple way to talk to [child’s name] about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. What do you think if I talk to them?”.
In some cases, the adult/s responsible for deciding to vaccinate the child will face barriers to getting trustworthy information. See our guide to vaccination conversations for more advice on how to support them through this.
Depending on your role in the child’s life and in your family, the adult/s may even prefer for you to lead the way. You could offer to take the child to the appointment, or to organise a whole family appointment with both kids and elders – like at a drive through vaccination centre or with a vaccination bus.
2. Have age-appropriate discussions and guided research
Having a conversation beforehand is a great way to make children feel calmer about a needle experience overall. They won’t feel ambushed by this painful thing, and knowing it was for something good can help them feel brave about it.
Do research together - some scientific places to get started include:
- COVID-19 and Kids Resource Hub – The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne
- COVID-19 and children: Frequently asked questions – National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance
- COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 – Australian Government Department of Health
- Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine safety data – Child participants – AusVaxSafety
Encourage the child to ask questions, and try to answer in honest, age-appropriate ways. Listen to and acknowledge their feelings – but be conscious of oversharing fears or negative feelings of your own, as this can make them overly afraid.
Below are some examples of how to have vaccine conversations with kids.
What is a vaccine?
“It’s a special medicine that helps protect you from getting really sick from COVID.”
Why should I get the vaccine?
“The COVID germs can make you really sick. If you get the vaccine, it will help you be strong enough to not get really sick if you get COVID. And then if you don’t get sick with COVID, it can help not make other people sick.”
Will it hurt?
It’s useful to help children to connect the experience of having a needle to previous experiences. Try talking to them about other vaccines or needles they’ve had if they remember any. You can also chat about other mild medical experiences, like treating a wound, that hurt a little bit but made them feel better in the end. For example:
“It can hurt a bit, like a little pinch. But remember when you got a graze on your knee, and we had to put the special spray on it? That stung for a little bit but it helped your knee get better. Getting a vaccine can be like that: it might hurt a little bit, or maybe not at all, but it will help you be strong and not get the virus.”
How does the vaccine work?
To explain that the vaccine ‘teaches’ their body to fight COVID, you can relate it to a teacher, coach, cultural or faith leader, or other role model (even yourself!) in their life that they will understand.
“The vaccine is like a teacher. It goes in your body and teaches it what to do if any COVID germs come near you. Just like when I showed you what to do when we cross the road to stay safe.”
3. Help them feel comfortable about having a needle
If you know that the child you’re speaking to is scared of needles, our tips for needlephobia may be useful. Other ways to support kids include:
- Avoid excessively referring to the vaccine as ‘the needle’. Simply call it the vaccine, and focus on it in a positive way, as something for protection.
- Validate their feelings without making them feel more afraid. For example: “it’s okay to be scared, but I’ll be with you the whole time to help you feel brave!”
- Encourage age-appropriate ways to learn about why the vaccine will protect them. Tell them that learning about something they’re scared of can help make it less scary.
- Don’t rush the child at their appointment. Help them feel calm and safe with the The person giving the vaccine.immuniser – for example, let them introduce themselves and talk about something they like first.
- Plan a distraction, like counting, singing, or talking about something they like. The child could even take in a favourite toy, or an iPad, to help them focus on something else.
4. Use real-life examples
Children love to feel like they are helping or getting involved, and they also like to copy what their older role models do. Talking to them about your own experience of COVID vaccines, and how they can help to keep our families and communities safe, can help them feel more confident. You could say things like:
- “I did it to protect Nan, and you can too!”
- “Getting the vaccine will mean you can go back to school again.”
- “You can help keep everyone at the sport centre/dance class/place of worship safe.”
Getting children vaccinated against COVID is an important part of keeping them and other loved ones safe. For information on other topics, from booking the vaccine to managing needlephobia, visit our vaccine information hub.
Australian Government Department of Health, How to speak to kids about COVID-19 vaccines, 8 September 2021.
The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Vaccination and needle phobia, January 2022.
Victorian Government Department of Health, Vaccination for children and teenagers, 23 March 2022.
Last updated: 29 March 2022.