Why I Don’t Apologize to My Children When They Get Vaccines

  • Copy By: Audrey Less, CRNA, MSN, RN
  • Feature Image By: Shutterstock

Now, before you label me cruel, hear me out.  I promise I love my children very much.

As parents, we teach our kids many lessons in life: that sharing is important, that holding doors open for people is polite, and that covering one’s mouth instead of covering the faces of those around you when you sneeze is a must. Of all the lessons taught, however, I believe one of the most important lessons of all is that of the apology. Not just what, why, and when apologies are important, but also how they are a fundamental part of communication and not an admission of defeat (ahem, my wonderful husband, who is still learning that last lesson).  

As I see it, there are two broad categories of apologies. The first is “I’m sorry, I did something wrong on purpose,” and the second is “I’m sorry, I did something wrong by accident.” By their nature (and I am sure most parents would agree), most children fall into the former category. This is not due to malicious intent, obviously – children just think that being naughty is funny (which it often is, and I am the first person to crack up in my house while trying to keep a stern face).

Being an optimist, I believe most situations warranting an apology fall into the “accidental offense” category. Regardless of what warrants an apology, the apology itself signifies a degree of remorse, a concept lost on most children until they are much older than my own. A big reason for this is that we, as parents, often present a lot of gray areas when it comes to apologies. As a result, our kids get a good dose of added confusion on something that is already hard to understand.

As a nurse, I see the best example of this issue during a child’s routine medical care.

I have often seen parents profusely apologize to their children for receiving medical care in a variety of different settings:  “I’m sorry we have to go to the doctor,” “I’m sorry you have to take this medicine,” and “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” during vaccines as their kids (understandably) scream, kick, and cry.  

 

Source: @gracesonde_

 

I, personally, feel no remorse in any of these scenarios, and so, I don’t apologize. I am not sorry that I take my kids to the doctor for routine checkups (and practically every week during the winter when every place we go to is a giant petri dish of germs). I am not sorry that I have to give them medicine when they have a double ear infection. And, I am definitely not sorry that they receive vaccinations to prevent them from contracting an easily preventable, communicable disease.

I’m fortunate to be able to give my kids the medical care they receive and have access to, and I am not sorry for any of it.

I know, as a mother, the idea that your child should have to feel any sort of pain can be soul-crushing. Trust me, I’ve been there. I once dropped an ointment tube on my daughter’s face, effectively slicing her nose and one eyelid. She sobbed, and I sobbed even harder, convinced I had blinded my poor baby (I did not, and her vision is just fine).

In my opinion, the problem is if I apologize while prying open their mouths to give them a dose of a medicine they need or while holding them during their vaccines, I’m teaching them that medicine and vaccines (choices I have made to keep them healthy and cure illness) are something wrong, and I personally don’t believe that. If I stand there crying, holding them, and apologizing, I’m teaching them that vaccines are something to resist, and I personally don’t believe that.

Yes, my kids don’t understand why they are receiving vaccines or antibiotics or the ramifications of actually contracting polio or Hepatitis B. And, neither do they understand the nuances of an apology and how “I’m sorry you are hurting” is different from “I’m sorry for giving you a shot” – so, if I apologize, it could be taken as their mama is apologizing for doing something wrong.

 

I’m fortunate to be able to give my kids the medical care they receive and have access to, and I am not sorry for any of it.

 

Of course, I don’t want my kids to feel unnecessary pain. But it’s vital that they understand the importance of health and medical care, painful or not, as they move through their lives. So, what do I say to my children instead?

I tell them, “It’ll be okay. It only hurts for a minute. Now, you can grow up big and strong. I love you very much.” Do my children sit still and acceptingly smile during their vaccines? Not even close. But my almost 21-month-old daughter knows that sometimes I have her do things she may not like, but it is not with malicious intent. She takes her antibiotics without fuss and tolerates her shots with a quick recovery.

No apology is necessary.   

 

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