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Pain, pain, go away: 5 pain management techniques for kids

Bumps and bruises are an unavoidable part of childhood. While no parent wants their child to feel pain, teaching your child about discomfort and pain management early on can help them better understand and respond to pain as they get older.

A study from the University of South Australia reveals five key approaches for parents and caregivers. These can be used when talking with your children about ‘everyday’ pain, which will help their recovery and build their resilience after injury.

Health advocacy organisation Pain Australia says as many as one in four Aussie children and one in five Aussie adults experience chronic pain. It’s, therefore, a vital topic for public health.

 

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Pain management techniques for parents and caregivers

In the UniSA study, researchers investigated ‘everyday’ pains in young children (aged two to seven years old). Experts from child health, psychology, development, and resilience, as well as parents and educators, shared what they thought would promote children’s recovery and resilience after minor pains or injury.

With 80 per cent consensus across all experts, the most important messages were to:

  • Teach children about the meaning of pain — pain is our body’s alarm system.
  • Validate children’s pain — ensure they feel safe, heard and protected, but don’t make a fuss.
  • Reassure children after an injury — let them know their body will heal and that the pain will pass.
  • Support your child’s emotions — let them express themselves but encourage them to regulate.
  • Involve your child in his or her recovery — encourage them to manage their pain (for example, “Go and get a Band-Aid”).

Dr Sarah Wallwork, lead researcher at UniSA says parents and caregivers play a critical role in helping children learn about pain.

“Whether it’s falling from a bike or dealing with the often-dreaded vaccinations, everyday pain experiences are opportunities for parents to promote positive pain-related beliefs and behaviours,” Dr Wallwork says.

She says it is important to teach your children that pain is the body’s alarm system and that it’s there to protect. It’s also equally important to understand that pain and injury do not always align.

“As adults, one of the greatest pain management challenges is that we hold fundamental, life-long beliefs about how pain and recovery work. Often, when we get an injury, we believe that pain must follow; and conversely, if we feel pain, then we must have an injury — but as research shows, this isn’t always the case,” Dr Wallwork says.

 

Emotions play a big part in your child’s pain response

She says children’s pain is influenced by their emotions.

“For example, fear, hunger or tiredness can exacerbate symptoms, even though this is not pain itself,” Dr Wallwork says. “Teaching children that they can have some control over their pain — and that how they feel on the inside can influence this — empowers them to actively engage with their own pain management.”

Dr Wallwork says this empowerment can be age-appropriate. For a young child, it could be something as simple as getting a Band-Aid or a wet cloth. Rub the area and distract them, then tell them their injury is protected by the Band-Aid before encouraging them to go and play. For older children, the process can be more involved.

“The key is to demonstrate that the child is the healer and they that are actively involved in the healing process,” she says.

“By helping children learn about pain when they are young, we’re hoping to promote lifelong ‘helpful’ pain behaviours that will actively encourage recovery and prevent future pain problems.”


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