TLC for life's boo boos

Tips from the front lines for everyday parents


Dr. Melissa Wheeler and Jami Green

Sometimes, life can be a pain. But when pain happens to our children, it can be excruciating for parents.

When your child has a "little boo boo," you can do a great deal to ease the pain. Children mirror their parents' moods: Let your child know you take his distress seriously, but don't add to it.

Approach the hurt respectfully, but intellectually: "Here is what we need to do. We need to wash this cut and bandage it so it will get better faster." Take the injury in stride, then suggest the two of you pick up with his activities where he left off.

Medication has its place. Don't be afraid to use acetaminophen such as Tylenol or ibuprofen such as Motrin or Advil. Check with your pediatrician for the appropriate dose.

Plan ahead for upcoming doctor or dental appointments that might involve pain. Bring books or games as distractions, a favorite blanket or doll for comfort. Guided imagery may help-try to get your child's attention on a favorite time or place, vividly describing it so he can feel it and see it. Allow your child to choose a pleasurable activity to follow the appointment.

Before an inoculation or procedure, prepare your child by letting her know exactly what is going to happen. Use words that are descriptive, honest and positive. For instance, before an inoculation, you might suggest "The doctor is going to clean your arm first. It's going to feel like cold water. Then you're going to feel a pinch, but it will go away." Avoid using words like "needles" or "hurt" as much as possible, but never lie.

Deep breathing helps manage pain and anxiety. Singing a song, having your child make animal noises, blowing bubbles or pretending to blow up a balloon will help your child to breath deeply.

Sooner or later, you may find yourself on the way to the emergency room with a more serious injury. Keep your cool and efficiently and calmly get him the medical help he needs. Remember, your child takes his cues from you.

In the emergency room, ask the physician about her plan for dealing with pain. The Wong-Baker FACES Pain Scale, a series of six graphic faces with expressions and labels ranging from "no hurt" to "hurts worst," is often used with children 3 and older. Once the level of pain has been established, don't be afraid to demand appropriate pain medication.

Most importantly, when the whole episode is over, encourage your child to return to their activities.

When children are traumatized by pain, the bad memories stay in their heads. But those who learn to master pain early have confidence in their ability to get through the hurt.

Dr. Melissa Wheeler is chief of anesthesiology and pain management, and Jami Green is a certified child life specialist, both at Chicago's Shriners Hospitals for Children. They work closely caring for children with acute and long-standing pain.

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