child showing his hands to an adult woman

Chronic Pain Management in Children: What Parents Need to Know

Dealing with chronic pain can be a struggle not only for the person experiencing it firsthand, but also for their family and caregivers. It is particularly difficult watching a child in pain. Parents may struggle with how best to address a child’s needs while still recognizing that they are individuals. One of the most important things to remember is that a child’s pain is his or her own.

Defining a goal.

The goal for parents should be teaching children how to best manage chronic pain; which begins with explaining to the child that he or she is the expert. Children should be encouraged to share their own information during medical appointments – with parents or caregivers only assisting if necessary.

What else can parents do to help?

Don’t ask your child if they are hurting. Questions like “How is your pain?” or “Does your stomach hurt today?” puts focus on the pain. Let your child bring it up to you. If your child says they are in pain, remind them of the skills they’ve learned to manage it, like relaxation, breathing, and distraction.

Parents and caregivers shouldn’t give an excessive amount of attention or sympathy by providing rewards as a response to pain, but do give your child accolades for school attendance and participation. Rewards may include use of electronics or time spent doing an enjoyable activity. Involve your child in selecting rewards as it improves the likelihood that he or she will work toward goals. Encourage your child to continue with regular activities and physical activity as recommended by the care provider.

Be aware of how your child sees you respond to pain. Children may respond to pain because they have seen certain behavior in adults. For example, do you talk about it, limit your activity, or mention it and continue with your daily responsibilities?

Remember, this is about improving your child’s functioning by developing healthy habits.  The better your child can manage their own pain responsibly each day, the better the outcome will be for them and your family in the long run.

To learn more about Comprehensive Pain Services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.

Joan Fraser, MSW, LISW-S
Joan Fraser is a Social Worker in the Comprehensive Pain Management Clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She received her Master’s Degree from the Ohio State University. She has over 30 years of clinical experience. She values her current multidisciplinary setting where she is active in educating patients and their families about managing chronic pain and living healthy lives.

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