Growing up will include some bumps and bruises, whether you like it or not. While no parent wants their child to be in pain, teaching them about it at a young age can help them understand and cope with pain later in life.
University of South Australia researchers have identified five critical strategies that parents and other caregivers can use to talk to young children about “everyday” pain and help them recover from injury.
Chronic pain affects one out of every four Australian children and one out of every five adults, making it a major public health concern.
Researchers examined “everyday” pains in young children in this study (aged 2–7 years old). They consulted child health, psychology, development, and resilience experts, as well as parents and educators, to determine what would best support children’s ability to recover from minor pains and injuries and develop resilience.
The most important messages, according to 80 percent of experts, were to:
- Teach children about the importance of pain and how it serves as our body’s alarm system.
- Validate children’s suffering; make them feel safe, heard, and protected; however, avoid making a scene.
- After a wound, reassure children that their bodies will heal and the discomfort will pass.
- Allowing children to express themselves can help them regulate their emotions.
- Involve children in the healing process to teach them how to cope with pain (eg. get a bandaid).
Dr. Sarah Wallwork of the University of South Australia, the study’s principal investigator, believes that parents and other adult caregivers are critical in helping children learn about pain.
Lead researcher at UniSA, Dr. Sarah Wallwork, states, “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.”
She added, “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.”
“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,” underlined she.
She further said, “By helping children learn about pain when they are young, we’re hoping to promote lifelong ‘helpful’ pain behaviors that will actively encourage recovery and prevent future pain problems.”