How to help children manage pain better

How to help children manage pain better

A study of University of South Australia identified five approaches which parents and caregivers can use when talking to young children about everyday pain, and which can help their recovery and resilience after injury.

Bumps and bruises are an inevitable part of childhood. But while no parent wants their child to suffer, teaching children about pain when they’re young can help them better understand and respond to pain when they’re older.

In this study published in the scientific journal ‘European Journal of Pain’researchers studied pain in young children (ages 2 to 7) and asked experts in child health, psychology, development and resilience, as well as parents and educators, what they believed could promote recovery and resilience in children after minor pain or injury.

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With an 80% consensus among all experts, the most important messages were, first, teach children the meaning of pain, “our body’s alarm system”. Secondly, they urged validating the children’s pain, ensuring that “they feel safe, heard and protected, but without making a scandal”.

Also, they advise reassure children after an injury, letting them know that their body will heal and the pain will pass. Support children’s emotions as well, letting them express themselves, but encouraging them to regulate them. Finally, they urge children to get involved in their recovery: encourage them to manage the pain (for example, put a bandage on it).

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“Whether it’s falling off a bike or dealing with the oft-dreaded vaccinations, everyday experiences of pain are opportunities for parents to promote positive pain-related beliefs and behaviors. Although it is important to teach children that pain is our body’s alarm system and that it’s there to protect us, it’s equally important to understand that pain and hurt don’t always line up,” said Sarah Wallwork, lead researcher on the paper.

For the doctor, the main thing is to demonstrate that “it is the child who is cured and that he actively participates in the process”. “By helping children learn about pain when young, we hope to promote lifelong ‘useful’ pain behaviors that actively promote recovery and prevent future pain problems.”

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