Watching a child take a tumble or endure a painful jab of a needle can be distressing for any parent.
But while the natural urge is to rush to their aid, teaching kids resilience about managing their own pain can be just as valuable as they grow.
A new study from the University of South Australia has found parents and caregivers play a critical role in shaping how children react to and manage their pain.
"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 behaviours," according to lead researcher Dr Sarah Wallwork.
"In children, pain can be influenced by their emotions - for example, fear, hunger or tiredness can exacerbate symptoms even though this is not pain itself.
"Teaching children that they can have some control over their pain ... empowers them to actively engage with their own pain management."
A young child might be given a wet cloth or a bandaid, then told the injury is now protected and it is safe to move on a play, Dr Wallwork says.
"For an older child, the process can be more involved but the key is to demonstrate that the child is the healer and they that are actively involved in the healing process."
The study asked experts in child health, psychology, development and resilience - as well as parents and educators - what they believed promoted recovery and resilience after minor pains or injury in children aged between two and seven.
The cohort agreed - with 80 per cent consensus - the five most important messages were: teaching the child about pain being the body's alarm system; validating the child's pain without making a fuss; reassuring the child that the pain will pass; supporting their emotions while encouraging them to regulate them; and encouraging them to get involved in their own recovery, for example fetching their own bandaid.
In Australia, as many as one in four children and one in five adults experience chronic pain.
Teaching children about the relationship between injury, pain and recovery may go some way to improving those statistics, researchers hope.
"By helping children learn about pain when they are young, we're hoping to promote lifelong 'helpful' pain behaviours that will actively encourage recovery and prevent future pain problems," Dr Wallwork said.
Australian Associated Press
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