General Health & Wellness • Jul 31, 2014

Parenting through the pain – Sometimes a little “ouch” is a good thing

Recently I was at the pool watching some adorable, little kids going down the slide.  Some looked like seasoned pros. But sometimes, even for the pros, things went a bit awry and howls of pain were heard throughout the land.

Most of the kids were brave troopers and recovered quickly, got back on the slide, and had fun.  But one or two received a bit more hugging and soothing from mom, and took a little longer to feel better.

It got me thinking, were those kids experiencing more pain, which led them to seek more help from mom, or were those moms paying more attention to the kid’s distress, which led to the kid focusing on the pain longer?

We all try to help our kids avoid painful experiences.  Even here at the hospital, we take special steps to make sure a trip to the ER is as “ouchless” as possible – numbing cream before an injection, child life specialists to provide distraction during a procedure, even nitrous oxide (laughing gas), when appropriate.

But it’s worth remembering: in this age where health care is trying hard to be “ouchless,” learning how to deal with pain is a very important part of life, and if we invest too much in trying to shelter our kids from this reality, we make it harder for them to learn to be strong and brave.

ShotsFor example – every child has to endure routine shots at the doctor’s office. Here are some suggestions for preparing in advance that may help ease their pain:

  • Get inspired by learning about injections and watching positive role models:  Kids will benefit from watching videos of kids of a similar age who are getting shots and acting brave.  Kids relate to other kids and get the message, “Hey if he can do it, so can I!”  A good option for learning about shots is Sid, the Science Kid: Getting a Shot, You Can Do It!
  • Plan in advance:  Talk with your child about the goal of being brave, and practice what will happen. Explain that acting brave helps us feel brave, and have a “dress rehearsal.”  Have your child practice sitting on his own (not in parent’s lap), with relaxed muscles, belly breathing.  Decide what the child will do, usually it works best for the child NOT to look at the needle.  Have a game or video ready to go on your mobile device, and practice getting a pretend injection with the child watching the video.
  • Before the injection, monitor your “vibes.” If you are tense and uptight, your child is likely to pick up on these feelings and become more tense.  Do some relaxation techniques for yourself!  Act brave!  Your child will pick up on your confidence.

As parents, we all struggle to balance our protective instinct, with our child’s developmental need for ‘tough love.’ I think empowering them in the doctor’s office at injection time is a good place to start teaching kids to understand and tolerate the things in life that hurt. At least, isn’t it worth a shot?