This is a guest blog from Lisa M. Peters, MN, RN-BC (in the video above). Lisa is mom of two children and a clinical nurse specialist for the Pain Medicine Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital. She holds a clinical faculty appointment in the Department of Family and Child Nursing at the University of Washington School Of Nursing. She is board certified in pain management from the American Nurses Credentialing Center and is a Mayday Pain & Society Fellow. Lisa has a passion for improving the lives of children in pain. I’ve learned so much from her already!

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Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. That’s a key message when I partner with parents who bring their kids in for procedures and hear them recount stories of standing by, feeling helpless, as they watch their kids suffer with pain and distress.

It does not have to be that way.

Parents seldom realize the power they have as advocates and as partners with doctors and nurses in managing, and even preventing, their children’s pain. Could that shot at the doctor’s office really be a different experience? Do a few moments of pain really matter in the long run? If I speak up, will they label me and my kid as “troublemakers”?

As a parent, you can make a big difference in your child’s experience with pain. Knowledge is power.

3 Things To Know About Pain:

Poorly treated pain is harmful, both immediately and long term.
Science continues to teach us about the consequences of poorly treated pain on our bodies and minds. There is evidence that it can change how our bodies process pain signals, especially during critical periods of development in childhood. This can lead to highly sensitive areas of our bodies or a generally louder experience of pain. Memories of painful experiences have been shown to shape how we respond; studies show that 10% of the adult population avoids seeking medical care when needed due to fear of needles.

Many common pain experiences are preventable and therefore harm may be avoided.
When it comes to healthcare, pain is something we expect, and in many cases, accept. If a child has an ear infection, our focus is on judging whether an antibiotic is recommended. If a child has a urinary tract infection, our focus is on fluids, hygiene, and eradicating the infection. If a child receives a shot, our focus is on ‘getting it over with’ quick. Yet, in each of these situations there is a child suffering with pain, not just an infection to be treated or procedure to be accomplished.

Parents know their child best; therefore are essential active members of the team.
Watch the video above to learn from parents’ experience with pain and pain management.

5 Things To Minimize Your Child’s Suffering:

  1. Speak up – Make it clear that you expect pain to be prevented and managed to the degree possible.
  2. Partner – You know your child, doctors and nurses know pain management. Get together and make the best plan. The simple act of making a plan can help you feel more confident and relaxed, which in turn helps your child.
  3. Prepare – You teach with your words. Do not tell a child “it won’t hurt” or that it’s not okay to cry. Let children experience and express what is true for them. While some kids cope best with distraction (e.g. read a book or sing a song), other kids cope best by being more actively involved (e.g. tell them what they will see, hear, smell, give them a job to hold the band-aid). Ask about over-the-counter or prescription skin numbing cream and when to use medicines to reduce pain.
  4. Participate – Position matters. For a baby, it is best to cradle them and breastfeed or provide oral sucrose, if possible; while toddlers do better when sitting on your lap. Older kids should be allowed to have some choice of their position, but children should not be held flat on their back. That is the one position that we all feel most vulnerable and less in control, especially when threatened, such as during a painful procedure.
  5. Advocate – At any point, you have the right to stop and ask for a change if the current plan is not working. Your ‘stop sign’ is a voice for your child. While pain may be a part of healthcare, needless suffering is not. Addressing your child’s comfort, and your concerns about it, are essential elements in a trusting and respectful relationship with healthcare providers.

Online Resources For Reducing Your Child’s Pain:

Here’s a video, Reduce The Pain Of Vaccination In Babies, that can provide you information and talking points with your own baby’s pediatrician and health care team. They provide tips for you to help support your baby and also get the reassurance you need.

Information on using numbing cream for painful procedures.

Information on reducing the pain and anxiety of needles.