Your Child's Pain: A Parent's Guide For Children 1-5 Years Old

Your child may be having pain from surgery, procedures, or an illness. The nurses will be doing everything they can to keep your child comfortable. You can help us help your child by telling us about them.

  • How does your child's behavior change when they are sick or having pain?
  • What works to comfort your child?
  • How does your child react to painful or stressful situations?

As a parent, your are your child's advocate. Feel free to talk to us about your child's care. Ask questions. Share with us what you feel is or is not working. Give us your ideas to make your child more comfortable.

How much pain is my child having?

Every child reacts to pain differently. Some children become quiet, restless, irritable, or angry. Your knowledge of their normal and their sick behaviors will be very useful. If your child is unable to speak or communicate, then we will need your help even more to assess their pain. The following are some behaviors the nurses look at to assess your child's pain.

Young child with broken arm.
  • Cry
    Are they moaning, crying, or screaming?
  • Facial Expressions
    Are they smiling, composed, or grimacing?
  • Talk
    Are they complaining about general things or about their bodies and pain? Are they unusually quiet, even when they are probably experiencing pain?
  • Interaction
    Are they detached or withdrawn? Are they exploring their surroundings? Can they be distracted with toys or videos? Are they playful?
  • Body
    Can they get comfortable in bed? Is their body tense, shivering, or immobilized? Do they insist on staying in one specific position?
  • Legs
    Are their legs constantly kicking or squirming? Are they drawn up and tensed? Will they only stand or refuse to stand?
  • Sleeping
    How is their sleeping as compared to their normal pattern?
  • Appetite
    Is their appetite significantly decreased?

Ask your nurse about the pain assessment tools they will be using. Help us select the best tool for your child.

What can I do to help?

father comforts young child.

First, when your child is in pain try to remain calm and positive. Your child's pain experience can be affected by your reactions. If your child sees you anxious then they may become frightened. If they see you calm and reassuring they may be less fearful and be able to handle their pain better.

Second, let your nurse know your child is in pain or if the pain has gotten much worse. Your nurse will be able to give your child pain medication and possibly provide compresses, elevation, support rolls, or other comfort measures.

Third, along with pain medications there are other things you can do to help your child. To use some of these strategies, the child should be willing and able to participate. Parents can often use these strategies best because the person doing them should be someone the child knows and trusts. That person should also not be the one doing a painful procedure. With patience, pain medication, and combining several strategies your child may have considerable pain relief.

The simplest and often the most effective way to change the way your child is feeling is through distraction. Moving their attention from their pain to another activity can be done in countless ways. Having them play with interesting toys, watch a video, play games, listen to stories, find Waldo, and blow bubbles are just a few distracting activities. Feel free to come up with and use other activities as well.

As your child gets older, their imaginations become more active and more useful for helping with their pain. Can a favorite superhero come and take the pain away? Can your child imagine blowing the "ouchies" into bubbles and blowing them away? What about making their blanket or a glove magical and comforting? Relive a favorite movie or family trip with them. Talk about holiday and birthday presents.

Your child may also benefit from gentle massage. If you would like to try massaging your child, first talk with your nurse. In some cases, certain areas should not be massaged or the child may be limited to specific positions in bed. Also, pay attention to whether the massage is relaxing or arousing your child because some children become very stimulated when touched.

Preparing for Painful Procedures

The most common painful procedures are blood draws and IV starts but may include other procedures depending on your child's situation. Please ask your nurse to fully explain these things to you before they happen. The nurse will usually ask you if you wish to be with your child during the procedure. This may be a hard decision. While we usually would like parents to be with their children to comfort them, choosing to wait outside is okay too. If you stay with your child, your nurse will let you know what to do and you can use some of the ideas mentioned already to comfort your child.

These are some things to remember when preparing your child for procedures. Be honest, confident, and positive about what is going to happen. Try to describe things in ways they can understand and in terms of what they will feel, hear, see, and smell. Never even hint or joke about the procedure happening because they have been bad. Let them know it is okay to cry and scream but that everything will be over quicker if they hold still.

Remember to:

  • Participate in your child's recovery and plan of care.
  • Communicate with your nurses and doctors.
  • Advocate for your child's comfort.

page last modified on: 3/27/2017

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