New research offers pain management techniques for children

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A new study explores how teaching children about pain when they are young can help them better understand and respond to pain when they are older.

The research, published in European Journal of Pain, was conducted by investigators from the University of South Australia. They identified five key approaches that parents and caregivers can use when talking to young children (aged 2-7 years) about “everyday” pain, in an effort to help their recovery and resilience after injury.

The researchers received opinions from 18 experts including specialists in pediatric pain, trauma, child development and psychology, educators, and parents using a Delphi Survey. The experts reached consensus on 187 items, with 12 key themes to consider when promoting adaptive pain beliefs and behaviors in children regarding everyday pain experiences.

According to the study, the five key approaches were:

  • Teach children about the meaning of pain; that it is the body’s alarm system
  • Validate children’s pain – make sure 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 the pain will pass
  • Support children’s emotions – let them express themselves but encourage them to regulate
  • Involve children in recovery – encourage them to manage their pain (for example, get a bandage)

“In children, pain can be influenced by their emotions – for example, fear, hunger, or tiredness can exacerbate symptoms, even though this is not pain itself,” said lead author Sarah Wallwork, PhD, and post-doctoral research fellow in the Body in Mind Research group at the University of South Australia in a statement. “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.”