Advertisement

How can being in pain affect my child's behavior?

A child's age and understanding of what causes pain can affect her behavior and sense of well-being. Here are some things to consider at each age:
  • Newborns, 0 to 3 months, may cry a lot, even when being comforted. A newborn may grunt or groan, hiccup, clench her fists, or spread her fingers wide apart. She may put her hands near her mouth. She may have trouble sleeping or trouble staying awake. She may startle easily, and resist being touched by making jerky movements or arching her back when being held.
  • Infants and toddlers, 1 to 3 years old, may want to be held all the time and fear separation from you. A strong sign of pain is that your toddler may not be interested in toys or activities she usually enjoys. Under extreme pain, she may show behaviors such as hitting herself or thrashing around. Although she can only use a few words to describe the pain, she may be able to point to the place that hurts.
  • Preschoolers, 3 to 5 years old, often struggle to understand why they hurt and when the pain will stop. A preschooler may think her pain is punishment for bad behavior. She may create pretend reasons for why she's in pain. When she plays, she may want to repeat themes of illness, injury, or the hospital. This can help her make sense of what is happening to her.
  • School-age children, 5 to 12 years old, can understand simple explanations of why they have pain and how long it will last. While a school-age child can usually tell you where and how much she hurts, she may try to be brave and pretend she's not in pain. Or, she may exaggerate descriptions of her experience and the pain. She may also be afraid that medical treatments will change her body permanently.
  • Teenagers, 12 to 18 years old, may be afraid to lose control of what's happening to them or be worried that they could die from the pain. A teenager may try to be brave and pretend she's not in pain. She may not want to describe the pain well because she may feel uncomfortable about her body. She may assume that other people know what she's thinking or may think that she is the only one who has ever felt the pain she feels.

Continue Learning about Pain

What to Give a Child for Pain
What to Give a Child for Pain
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published a warning against giving the opioid codeine to children in the journal Pediatrics, published in...
Read More
What causes chest pain?
Linda MartinezLinda Martinez
Many things can cause chest pain. Depending on the nature, duration and timing of the pain, it can b...
More Answers
Aches and Pains You Should Never Ignore
Aches and Pains You Should Never IgnoreAches and Pains You Should Never IgnoreAches and Pains You Should Never IgnoreAches and Pains You Should Never Ignore
What's your body trying to tell you?
Start Slideshow
What Are the Different Types of Back Pain?
What Are the Different Types of Back Pain?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.