Study explores techniques for reducing needle anxiety

Study explores techniques for reducing needle anxiety

A University of South Australia study has found two new nurse-led techniques that help reduce needle fear in primary-aged children.

Based on a preliminary study involving children aged 8–12 years, the techniques are:

  • Divided Attention — where a child’s attention and expectations are drawn away from the needle.
  • Positive Memory Reframing — where a child’s exaggerations about the distress and discomfort of needles are redressed through discussion about the positive elements of the experience so that they form more realistic memories of the event.


The Divided Attention technique involved a one- to two-minute distraction game where a nurse tapped the child’s arm above and below the vaccination spot in a random order, with the child focusing their attention on guessing which spot was touched each time. This game takes advantage of the potential analgesic effects of distraction.

The Positive Memory Reframing technique involved talking to children about a past injection and emphasising positive aspects, such as how brave the child was and praising specific strategies they used to reduce their own distress, for example, deep breathing and looking away. The aim is to foster a sense of self-efficacy to help children better cope.

The lead researcher, UniSA’s Dr Felicity Braithwaite, said, “For many children, undergoing a needle procedure can be painful and distressing.

“Negative experiences of vaccinations in childhood can often lead to medical avoidance and vaccine hesitancy into adulthood, which can have devastating consequences when it comes to outbreaks of preventable diseases.

“By investing more time into techniques to help children manage their fears about needles, we hope to change these outcomes and deliver better health outcomes for the next generation.”

The study involved 41 children and their parents, with participants randomly allocated to one of four groups — usual care, divided attention, positive memory reframing or a combination of the latter two interventions. Clinical outcomes were assessed at baseline, immediately post-vaccination and at two weeks post-vaccination.

Both strategies were tested in non-clinical settings (such as schools) to maximise the potential of broad vaccination programs that deliver minimal distress for children.

Image credit: FangXiaNuo

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