Book excerpt: When children feel pain – CSL Behring | Wonder Mind Kids

Instinctively, most new parents are quick to react when a baby cries. It is a tried and tested method recommended by pediatricians to give children a sense of security, a sense that their needs are being met.

But the road to parenting is long and nobody really teaches mothers and fathers how to react when a child is hurt, sick or in pain. The new book, When Children Feel Pain: From Everyday Aches to Chronic Conditions, takes on this little-noticed topic with the goal of improving pain management and shedding light on the complexities of pain in children and adolescents.

Because many diseases are genetic and passed from parent to child, and because parents’ attitudes and management of pain can affect their children, chronic pain can run in families, says the authors Rachel Rabkin Peachman, a health and science writer , and Anna C Wilson, PhD, a child psychologist. Researchers are just beginning to study how parents and families affect the way a child understands and responds to pain.

Children experience pain for a variety of reasons, including surgery, fractures, and chronic conditions like migraines and sickle cell anemia. They need their parents to care for and advocate for them, say the authors. But parents should also avoid “catastrophizing”. This is when a parent reacts with fear and excessive worry about the pain, sending a message that the situation is too much for a child or cannot be handled.

Peachman and Wilson devoted a chapter of their book to the parent-child relationship, particularly as the parents are coping with their own chronic pain. Peachman can relate to how she herself deals with chronic pain from scoliosis. As a mother of two, she used that experience to inform the book and this list of tips for parents, which we share in the excerpt below:


Although science suggests the odds are against parents with pain issues, researchers have identified a variety of positive actions parents can take to prevent the progression of chronic pain in their children and build resilience.

Take care. Managing your chronic pain while caring for your children can feel exhausting and overwhelming. Know that when you take care of your own physical and emotional well-being, your child will benefit as well. However, remember that caring for yourself doesn’t mean that chronic pain should become your central identity. While pain requires attention and getting good treatment can feel like a full-time job, remember that pain doesn’t define you. You are a parent. You may also be a spouse, a son or daughter, a friend. Maybe you have a job or hobbies. Remember to engage in the people and activities that bring meaning and joy to your life and make you so much more than your pain.

Try not to catastrophe about your own pain or that of your child. Easier said than done, but once you realize that assuming the worst is a tendency that actually increases the pain, it becomes more possible to contain it. First, pause to identify catastrophic thoughts when they arise (like “I’ll never get better” or “There’s no way this treatment will work”) as they can be a signal to reformulate your thought process.

Make an effort to learn more about pain and how it works in the body; Pain education often helps people see their discomfort as less threatening, which can reduce the worry and anxiety that can lead to disastrous thoughts.

There are also adult education programs that can reduce pain disasters. Beth Darnall, a pain psychologist at Stanford University, has developed an innovative two-hour course that teaches adults to recognize catastrophic thoughts in the moment and take immediate action to suppress them. The course, which is increasingly being offered across the country, explains how cognitive behavioral strategies, such as B. Realigning your perspective, deep breathing and muscle relaxation can reduce anxiety and rumination over pain. As you learn to worry less about your own pain, you’ll likely worry less about your child’s as well.

Name your pain and coping strategies out loud. While doctors wouldn’t recommend parents whining about their pain on a daily basis, it’s helpful to let your children know what you’re experiencing when necessary so they can understand your behavior. This is important because many of the best coping strategies that adults use may not be obvious to children. For example, instead of hiding the fact that you are struggling with a headache, let your child know that you are not feeling well by saying, “I think I can feel a headache coming.” Then model a positive one Coping strategy by saying, “I’m going to take a bath and relax so I can keep this headache from getting worse.”

If your children know what you are experiencing, they won’t wonder why you seemed upset or left the room to be alone. For example, if you often deal with back pain by going for a short walk, make your children aware of your approach. You’ll learn that pain doesn’t have to ring alarm bells and can be treated calmly.

Model a multidisciplinary approach. For many people with chronic pain, there is no magic pill or method that will cure everyone. Rather, most people benefit from a range of treatments, which may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, physical therapy, good nutrition, stress reduction, and medications, as needed. For parents in pain, consider the pain management behaviors you teach your children. Ideally, you show them coping strategies beyond taking medication. You could show your kids that you make an effort to walk daily or get enough sleep so you can minimize your pain.

Rachel, for example, eventually sought out a scoliosis-specific physical therapy called Schroth, which has helped her significantly with her pain. Her children (who are now old enough to understand more) know that when Rachel does her Schroth exercises, she takes the time to strengthen her body and minimize pain. She hopes that her children will internalize this approach and follow it if necessary.

Don’t focus too much on your pain. Research has shown that parents’ fixation on their own pain can make their children’s pain worse. In two separate laboratory studies, parents were asked to dip their hand in very cold water (a classic pain test) and either exaggerate or minimize their expression of pain while their children watched. Next, the children underwent the same cold water test and then rated their pain levels.

It found that the level of pain parents exhibited affected how much pain and anxiety their child experienced themselves, with girls in particular being more prone to experience more pain when overdone by a parent. Bottom line: If you make a big deal out of pain, chances are your kids will follow suit.

Keep you – and your family – on the move. If you are able, model movements and exercises and play physically with your children. If you can’t, don’t do it Worries. You don’t have to be your kids’ baseball coach to bring physical activity into their lives. Even from the sidelines, there are many ways to help your children move, which can reduce their risk of developing chronic pain. For example, encourage them to sign up for school sports or dance classes, give them physical chores around the house (like taking out the trash), let them play outside friends or neighbors and consider asking other adult family members or friends to take your children to the park, go on a hike, or shoot hoops in the driveway.

If you’re afraid of letting your kids play sports or that their physical activity might cause pain, don’t let your kids worry about them. Ultimately, if they are physically (and socially) active and given permission to be children, they will more likely to grow into fulfilled and happy adults.

Don’t forget to have fun. When pain feels unbearable and coping with everyday life feels overwhelming, it’s easy to forget the easy and enjoyable things we can do with our children. Playing board games, baking or cooking, reading books, watching films and doing crafts are all opportunities to share positive moments with your children. Making time for these types of activities will help your kids know that you can enjoy life even when you’re in pain, and your family as a whole can get through stressful times and still have fun together. If you’re having trouble connecting with your children or need help with pain management and parenting, consult a pain psychologist or child psychologist if you can.

Give yourself a break. There’s no question that completing these tasks can feel overwhelming. Parenting under normal circumstances is difficult, and parenting while dealing with your pain or your child’s pain can feel impossible. So be nice to yourself and try not to feel guilty for doing your best. Make time for your own sleep, exercise, meals, and relaxation—and know that the better off you and your family are, the better off you are.

Adapted from WHEN CHILDREN FEEL PAIN: FROM TALLDAY ACHES TO CHRONIC CONDITIONS by Rachel Rabkin Peachman and Anna C. Wilson, published by Harvard University Press. Copyright © 2022 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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