» Helping the Parents of Children with Chronic Pain
Helping the Parents of Children with Chronic Pain

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Parenting a child who is living with chronic pain can be a difficult task. As a parent, you feel as if you must be able to help your child at all costs, especially removing something that is causing illness or pain. Sadly, this isn't always possible and it can make a parent feel helpless, leading to other issues down the road. The authors of this article wanted to look at how having a child with chronic pain affects parents, how the parents affect the child's adjustment to living with chronic pain, and how parents react to their children who have severe chronic illnesses other than chronic pain.

There are not a lot of studies that have been done on the effects of childhood chronic pain on the parents of the children. From the research that has been done, researchers have found that parents of children with chronic pain, particularly mothers, had high levels of stress and anxiety, and symptoms of depression. As well, the care required for their children can cause significant social, emotional and financial impact on the family, and it can put stress on parental relationships. There is also the aspect of wondering about or working on finding cures for their children's pain, which can lead to further distress if they aren't successful.

How parents affect their children's adjustment to chronic pain also hasn't been studied very much yet. In the research that has been done, there have been signs that a mother's stress level could directly affect a child's pain level. For example, one study examined children with juvenile arthritis and the researchers found that children with arthritis reported more pain if their mother had more difficulty coping emotionally than children of mothers who were in less psychological distress. Another study found similar findings with headaches in children. Other approaches found maladaptive outcomes as well. For example, parents who allowed their children to get out of more everyday activities due to pain symptoms actually could make their children complain more often about pain.

Chronic medical conditions may produce pain but not necessarily the chronic pain of arthritis. Illnesses, such as cancer or diabetes, still may - and usually do - cause significant emotional and/or psychological stress on parents. According to the article's authors, stress is usually related to "the child's treatment, medical adverse effects, changes in daily activities, disruption of social and family roles, and burden associated with adhering to a treatment regimen. The every day demands of parenting and managing employment, finances, and a household are greatly increased."

If parents don't come together to work on the stress, this could be a good indicator that the child will be less likely to adjust to the illness. While it may be tempting to believe that parental stress is a normal reaction to a child's illness, the different levels of stress can make the difference of a child living successfully with a disease or having great difficulty in managing. It's important to help parents reduce their own stresses in order for the children to work on theirs.

What does this mean for research and for hands-on management? There needs to be more investigation into why parents react they the way they do and how to help parents manage their reactions. Investigators need to look at how to help parents cope, particularly when there is a change in the parent/child relationship, as often happens when a chronic illness is diagnosed or a child lives with chronic pain. It's important to understand how mothers and fathers differ in their reactions, as well. Finally, studies must be done to find ways to not only identify these issues but to deal with them effectively.

Reference: Tonya M. Palermo and Christopher Eccleston. Parents of children and adolescents with chronic pain. In Pain. Pain. November 2009. Vol.146. Nos. 1-2. Pp. 15 to 17.