Mind-Body Strategies for Children
Help your child harness the power of the mind to break the cycle of distress – tension – pain.
Mind-body strategies distract the mind from pain sensations.
Children experience greater levels of pain and fear when they do not know what to expect. So preparing your child for procedures is a vital part of minimising and managing pain.
Sadly, many children have repeated painful experiences, or constant pain during their cancer journey. You can help your child learn how to use stories, fantasy, “imagining”, or self-hypnosis to lead him mind away from the pain.
There are many variations on these pain management strategies. Finding the ones that work best for your child’s individual needs and personality is very important. All these techniques need to be planned, learned and practiced before the procedure.
Guided imagery allows a child to create an alternative reality in his mind, rich in calming experiences. For example, he may imagine he is playing on a beautiful beach, warmed and strengthened by the sunshine, and calmed by the gentle ebb and flow of the waves.
By mentally entering that different world, touching, seeing, smelling, hearing and tasting it, the child transports his attention away from the present pain to a place of comfort and peace. When he is calm, the real physical sensations of pain will also be reduced.
You can use bubbles, light up toys, picture books, storytelling, nursery rhymes and favourite music to help draw your child’s mind away from present or anticipated pain. Even the youngest babies can benefit from light up toys and soft music.
Distraction is a highly effective intervention, but should never become a substitute for good procedure preparation.
Simple breathing exercises can reduce anxiety, muscle tension, blood pressure and stress. You and your child can experience a sense of calm by learning and practicing these techniques.
If your child is very young, you can promote healthy breathing by encouraging him to blow bubbles. This requires a deep in breath and slow, regular out breath which helps calm the body and focus the mind.
Soft, lullaby-like music with a gentle rhythm is also a very powerful tool in relaxing the body and mind. Some research has shown that with repeated regular exposure to music, the heart can reset itself to beat in time with the tempo.
Regularly playing calm music away from the procedure room may help your child’s body become more responsive to music during the painful experience.
Touch is a very powerful form of communication. Therapeutic massage promotes this physical connection between parent and child, during stressful experiences and in everyday life.
Massage relaxes the body by stimulating production of oxytocin, a natural analgesic. The gentle strokes reduce tension and help regulate breathing.
The child feels loved and protected through positive touch. The parent is also calmed by it, feeling peace and warmth through this interaction with the child.
Boss Of Your Brain
This super video from Stanford Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital offers six skille to help children cope better with pain and the anticipation of pain, particularly around medical procedures. Skills include distraction, visualization, numbing the pain, deep breathing, and parents/carers staying calm to support the child. Watch together with your child to help prompt conversation and spark ideas as you plan a coping strategy together.