ADELAIDE, Australia — Bumps, bruises, and scratches inevitably happen to every child. So, how should parents talk about pain with their kids? Researchers from the University of South Australia are offering up five key talking points to keep in mind. They say educating children about pain from a young age can go a long way toward helping them better understand and respond to pain when they’re older.
Pain, for better or worse, is a fact of life for all people – including kids. The team at UniSA investigated common “everyday pains” among kids between two and seven years-old. Study authors asked a series of experts in various adolescent fields (child health, psychology, development, resilience) how to promote children’s recovery and resilience after minor pains or injuries. Additionally, the team also asked a group of parents and educators the same questions.
The 80-percent consensus among experts revealed that these five talking points are the most important messages to convey:
- Teach children that pain is just the human body’s alarm system.
- Validate children’s pain — without making a fuss, ensure kids feel protected, safe, and heard.
- Reassure children that pain is only temporary, and their body will heal.
- Support children’s emotions — within reason, encourage kids to express themselves.
- Involve kids in their own recovery, like going to get a Band-Aid.
‘Everyday pain experiences are opportunities for parents’
Lead researcher, UniSA’s Dr. Sarah Wallwork, adds parents and caregivers play a big role in educating children 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 behaviors,” Dr. Wallwork says in a university release. “While it’s 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 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 works. 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,” she continues.
Dr. Wallwork adds that emotions often influence pain episodes in children. For instance, if a child is tired, scared, or hungry, it may exacerbate symptoms. That’s why teaching kids that they have some control over their pain is so beneficial.
“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,” she explains. “This can be age-appropriate too. So, for a very young child, empowerment might be getting a bandaid or a wet cloth, rubbing the area and distracting them, then telling them their injury is protected by the bandaid and that it is now safe to move on and play. For an older child, the process can be more involved.”
Study authors say that by educating children about pain when they’re young, parents and caregivers are promoting lifelong “helpful pain behaviors” that will encourage stronger recoveries and prevent future pain problems years down the line.
“The key is to demonstrate that the child is the healer and they that are actively involved in the healing process,” Dr. Wallwork concludes.
The findings appear in European Journal of Pain.