Manage Pain in Children
Knowing how to manage pain, and being confident to do so is vital to your child’s complete well-being.
Sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent pain. For example, after an operation or during a painful procedure. You can, however, address factors that are often part of the pain, or make it worse.
Reducing fear and anxiety, talking with your child to clearly understand what they think and feel, relaxation and distraction all help to change your child’s experience of pain.
Reduce Fear and Anxiety
Fear and anxiety take many forms and always make pain worse.
- Fear of the unknown: “what is causing the pain?”; “what will they do because of the pain?”. Avoid statements like “I don’t know what we can do to make it better”.
- Fear of the pain itself, or losing control: “will the pain come again / get worse / never go away?”; “I can’t handle this”. Reassure your child that he will have support no matter what.
- Other people’s fear: children think, “I must be in danger if Mummy is so upset”. Remember your child takes cues from you. Stay calm and be encouraging.
Take Pain Seriously and Be Sympathetic
Don’t minimize your child’s experience – it is a big deal to him whether or not the procedure is painful. Suggesting the pain isn’t real or serious can often worsen his response.
Try to balance your responses to your child between offering sympathy and support, and sharing his anxiety. Parental anxiety greatly increases a child’s anxiety, so find ways to decrease your own anxiety in advance when you know a potentially painful procedure is approaching.
Parents and medical professionals often assume a specific part of the procedure is especially painful and distressing, but that may not be accurate. Something small and insignificant to an adult can be the biggest source of stress for a child.
For example, some children fear the EMLA patch or adhesive dressing more than the insertion of an IV or needle. Ask your child what he feels is most painful or upsetting.
Keep Your Child Relaxed and Comfortable
Things like tension, fatigue, thirst, or cross words make pain worse. You can reduce the potential for pain by making sure your child is well rested and calm.
- Encourage plenty of sleep and rest periods during the day.
- Offer drinks frequently, when appropriate. This aids blood and fluid collection.
- Practice comfort positions for appropriate procedures.
- Learn and practice simple relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, distraction or listening to music.
Distract Your Child
When children have nothing to distract them from the pain, the sensations will be stronger. Simple word games, songs and distraction toys can help a child focus on something other than painful stimuli.
Use a Calm Voice and Manner
A child in pain panics easily. Help your child stay calm. Your own calm can be transferred to him.
- Relax your own body.
- Speak in a slow, low voice.
- Slow down your movements.
- Slow and deepen your breathing.
- Be aware of how your body shows tension and how it shows that you are calm.