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Must-Have Messenger Mindset: It’s About the Relationship

Est. 3 minute read

Several attitudes and actions were effective at moving families toward accepting vaccines for their children.

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Promoting and providing immunizations are important elements of caring for our school communities. To be effective with families who aren’t fully confident in the COVID-19 vaccine, we need to demonstrate that ethic of caring in what we say and how we say it.  

Studies of school nurses who were effective at moving families toward accepting vaccines for their children found several attitudes and actions that made a difference:


Think in terms of a relationship that needs to be built, not just a vaccine that needs to be administered.

To persuade families to agree to something they may perceive as risky or unproven, they need to trust your advice. They will extend or withhold that trust based, for the most part, on what they believe about your motivations—and specifically, the degree to which they think you care about them and your patients more generally.

The takeaway for vaccine messengers: It is critical to think of interactions with families as opportunities to build or maintain a sense of compassion and caring. When time is short, this becomes more important, not less. 


Don’t assume that “the facts” are all you need (or should need) to change people’s minds.

While it’s understandable to want to get straight to the point of getting shots in arms, a “let’s get on with it” stance is unlikely to work with families who haven’t already gotten their kids immunized against COVID-19. It may take more than one conversation to move the family to the point of uptake. Make sure that your interaction makes them willing—perhaps even curious or eager—to revisit the issue with you another day.


Make it a priority to get unvaccinated families to talk.

When we draw out the thoughts of a parent or caregiver, we uncover their own commitments and values. These are much more powerful motivators than any opinion or fact we can offer. We can help move families toward vaccination (and other healthy behaviors) when we help them discover and verbalize their own reasons for taking action.

Before offering advice or guidance, ask questions that bring out families’ hopes, fears, and habits about their children’s health. Figure out what they think about vaccines in general and the COVID-19 vaccine in particular. (See our resource “Building Trust in the Moment” for more ideas on questions that get families talking.)


Signal that you believe the decision is theirs—and that you are there to support them, not judge them.

It’s important that families know that you respect their autonomy and that you feel good about them making their own decisions. Position yourself as a collaborative partner, not an authoritative expert. Look for ways to communicate a nonjudgmental, positive stance through your words, your tone, and your actions. 

Affirm the family’s intentions by saying things like

I can see that you’re working hard to protect the health and safety of your children. 

Ask for their permission before sharing advice or information by saying something like

If you’re okay with it, I could add to what you know by sharing what I’ve learned. 

Think about nonverbal signals that you could modify to communicate equality and partnership, from the location of the meeting to the way the seats are arranged. (See our resource “Building Trust in the Moment” for more ways to reinforce family autonomy.) 


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This resource is based on the research of Arnaud Gagneur, a researcher in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada.