I attended a great webinar with Dr Joshua Pate on his research into paediatric pain. The webinar attendees were all fellow pain researchers, many with their own children. It sparked an intriguing discussion around how they can raise their kids to be pain-savvy. It was clear that there is increasing interest in the field about children’s pain and whether educating kids early about pain can lower their risk of pain issues now and chronic pain later on. A child’s concept of pain is different from adults – of course, children are both experiencing the world for the first time and developing their fundamental cognitive abilities.
So what do pain researchers and clinicians say when their 7-year-old has a tumble on the football pitch or has a headache?
Josh mentioned that his kids are often falling over and sometimes crying, but a quick and caring check and an ‘oh, don’t worry about that!’ seems to do the trick. He also noted validating their pain is very important, just as it is for adults challenged by persisting pain. Another parent suggested it can be helpful to talk to her kids about the multiple factors that could contribute to their pain. Examples could be: ‘Have you noticed that your pain feels worse when you need more sleep, or when you’re hungry?’ or ‘Does your pain feel better when you’re playing with your best friend?’ A third parent mentioned that other parents at school may find her dismissive and uncaring in social situations when her children experience pain. But she believes that her attitudes to pain have rubbed off on her children; she has noticed they have different (and seemingly more adaptive) approaches to their pains than their peers.
I can’t really answer the question ‘Do pain researchers have pain-savvy kids?’ While these parents appeared to agree with each other’s approaches to kids’ pain, overall, they were unsure whether they had ideal parenting strategies. So, even pain experts don’t yet know how exactly to best talk to their kids about pain – it’s tricky stuff! (And lots more research is needed…). I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to learn more as this field develops!
– Anna Vogelzang