Pain and Parenting

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

A little over a year ago my brother and I published a book for children who have people in their life living with chronic pain. We both live in pain and he has children.

In preparing the book we did a lot of research on the language that children understand. For instance, using the word “hurt” instead of “pain” for children under six years of age helps them better comprehend chronic pain. Saying “Aunt Barby hurts” works better than “Aunt Barby has a migraine.”

When speaking with your child about chronic pain, try to create an open dialog that is age appropriate. Children need to be reassured about what is happening, especially when the child is the patient. For school-aged children, keep their teachers and counselors involved and offer them additional counseling and resources.

Young children have very active imaginations and when left to their own thoughts can make a situation much worse. I remember a time when I was young and a friend in school passed away. I had a cold the week before and went to school anyway. The teacher explained to the class that Chris had passed away after getting sick. For years afterward I thought I made him sick and that is why he died.

School-aged children think in black and white terms, so give realistic and honest answers like: “I don’t know when Christy will get better, but we can help make it easier for her if we do this.” 

Dealing with an adolescent child is a roller coaster for many parents and chronic pain makes that roller coaster ride even scarier. Many patients who are diagnosed in their teenage or early adult years will stop or slow development mentally and emotionally unless they are guided in managing their pain properly. They need understanding, support and encouragement from others, and to be engaged in social activities as much as possible.

It is best to answer their questions honestly and treat them with the ability to understand.  Get them professional help if they are acting out or asking questions you feel will be better answered by someone qualified in chronic pain and psychology.  

A big part of parenting and interacting with younger people with pain is our own guilt about their limitations. Instead of beating ourselves up, read them a bedtime story, watch a movie, or just spend time together. You may be surprised how proud your child is of how you are handling such a difficult situation as their caregiver. 

For parents in pain, the birth of a child is a wonderful and joyful event, but it raises a whole new set of concerns. For those who develop a pain condition after their child is used to life with fewer limitations and restrictions, this can bring on even more challenges and adjustments.

Some important questions to ask yourself are what if the pain grows worse? How will my child understand? How can I still parent them appropriately? And is there a difference if it’s mom or dad in pain? 

Have an open dialogue and communication that helps your children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces understand limitations and why a family member or parent is different. Children need to know they cannot catch your pain!

Children function better with a routine and knowing how things will get done – as in how they get to school or who will make their lunch. Make plans and stay organized. Get the family involved so that they know it will all be okay if mom or dad can’t manage things that day. Children of all ages need to be reassured about what is happening and that it will all work itself out. By planning, preparing, and helping, you can make it go that much smoother for the whole family.  

The bigger part of parenting with pain is our own guilt that we are short changing them somehow because of our limitations. With my older nephews, I didn’t have as close of a relationship with them for years due to not being able to manage expectations. Once I was able to set the expectation, it helped tremendously.

Yes, we may have to do things differently and maybe a few less things, but pick what matters and make it count.

And check out "Aunt Barby’s Invisible, Endless Owie" by Tim Ingle and Barby Ingle.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.