A mother comforts her child by sitting on the couch to talk. You can help investigate your child's pain by taking the time to ask questions and listen carefully.

As a pediatric nurse, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How can I help my child’s pain?” Parents often feel overwhelmed when it comes to dealing with children’s pain. I’ve come to discover that how we communicate with our children about pain plays a significant role in how they perceive it. Read about how you can address your child’s pain in 5 steps and you’ll be better equipped to deal with your child’s pain and discomfort.

5 Steps to addressing your child’s pain

Step 1: Acknowledge the pain

Sometimes, when we’re busy and a child approaches us with what appears to be mild discomfort, it may be tempting to dismiss it quickly. In an attempt to resolve the issue with the child, we may say things like, “I don’t see anything,” “It will feel okay in just a minute,” or “You look just fine to me.” However, invalidating pain does not make it go away. 

How can you be better at aknowledging your child’s pain?

A more effective approach when you child comes to you is to stop what you’re doing, and listen. Maintain eye contact with your child and accept their pain as a fact without questioning its validity. An empathetic reply validates your child’s feelings. You might want to say something like, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting. Tell me what happened, and we can figure it out together.” 

Step 2: Investigate

Approaching pain with calm curiosity will help you figure out what’s going on. Allowing a child to share what happened will help them process the situation as well. If you end up going to a doctor’s office, providing the answers to some of these questions will be helpful.

When investigating your child’s pain, imagine yourself in the role of a detective and ask thoughtful questions. When your child replies, listen carefully and ask follow-up questions for clarification.

As parents, it’s normal to want to ease our child’s pain as quickly as possible. However, before we can help, we need to understand what’s causing their discomfort. By taking the time to listen and ask follow-up questions, we can gain a better grasp of what is going on and provide more effective solutions.

Mother talking to her child in a park. Taking to your kids and empathizing with them is one way to address your child's pain.

Follow-up questions that can help you better understand your child’s pain:

  1. Provocation/Palliation: What makes the pain worse? What makes it better? For example, if your child has a bad headache, ask if loud noises make it worse and if hanging out in a dark room makes it feel better.
  2. Quality: Ask your child to describe their pain using descriptive words like sharp, shooting, dull, throbbing, burning, aching, cramping, tingling, or pinching.
  3. Region or Radiation: Ask your child to point to where they feel the pain and if it only stays in one spot or if it spreads.
  4. Severity: Ask your child to rate their pain using a pain scale.
  5. Timing: Ask when the pain started, if it always hurts or if it comes and goes, and if it’s gotten worse since it started.

Asking these questions shows your child that you care about their pain and helps you decide if medical attention is necessary. If you decide the problem something you can treat at home, knowing more about your child’s pain can help you decide which interventions will be the most helpful. 

Step 3: Assess

Once you’ve investigated your child’s pain by asking questions, you can target the physical area of the body that needs to be looked at. When assessing, it’s helpful to remember to use your senses. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? 

Pain assessment in children

Be aware of some of the signs of pain in toddlers and older children. Some of these include:

  1. Crying or whimpering
  2. Screaming or vocalizing in pain
  3. Clenched fists or tensed muscles
  4. Guarding or protecting a body part
  5. Refusing to move or participate in activities
  6. Increased heart rate or breathing
  7. Rapid blinking or squinting
  8. Facial grimacing or wincing
  9. Irritability or mood changes
  10. Changes in appetite or sleep patterns

Step 4: Intervene

This is the step where you decide what you’re going to do to assist your child in pain or discomfort. For example, if your child has a tummy ache, you might decide to intervene by using a heating pad on the area. If your child has accidentally cut themselves, you might decide that they don’t need stitches. You prepare to clean and bandage the cut at home. Whatever intervention you decide to use, be sure to talk to your child about your plan and ask them if they have any questions. Be specific and provide details about what you’re going to do. 

Step 5: Reevaluate

Once you’ve intervened, ask your child how they’re feeling. Did your intervention help with the discomfort or pain? Sometimes an intervention might take some time to be effective. If so, wait a few minutes and then follow up with your child. If the intervention wasn’t effective, you can consider trying something else.

Final Thoughts

As you practice these five steps, they’ll become more natural. Thinking through the details will be something that you do automatically when your child is in pain. By communicating with your child about their pain and approaching it logically, you will be able to provide comfort and support when they need it most.

We don’t have to feel helpless when our children are in pain. By taking the time to listen to our kids and evaluate the situation, we will be better equipped to figure out the best ways to help. Be patient with yourself as you learn and figure out what works best for your child.

Looking for more ways to comfort your kids? Check out my articles on how to use the five love languages to comfort your kids and creative pain relief for kids.

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