Pain Control (Child)

All children feel pain, even tiny babies. Pain is both a physical and a mental experience. It is often linked with fear and stress. Both short-term and ongoing (chronic) pain can harm children’s ability to interact with the world around them. Pain can cause problems for a child at home and at school.

Pain has many causes. It can be a result of an injury. It can be caused by medical treatments, such as surgery, shots (injections), or tests. And an illness, such as cancer, can also cause it.

Pain control will make a child happier and more comfortable. If the child had an injury or surgery, it will also help in healing.

Home care

  • Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe medicines for pain relief and relaxation. These may include acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Follow all instructions for giving any medicine to your child. Talk with their provider about any side effects to expect. Never give your child aspirin unless their provider says to do so. Don't give your child any other medicine without first asking the provider. If your child has chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with the provider before giving these medicines.

  • Give your child pain medicine on time as prescribed. This helps control pain before it gets severe. Don’t skip doses or wait too long between doses.

  • Follow medicine instructions carefully. The amount your child should take (dosage) is based on factors such as body weight and age. Dosages for children tend to be lower than for adults. Don’t give a higher dosage than instructed. This can be dangerous.

  • Let the healthcare provider know what medicines have worked well for your child in the past. Mention if your child prefers liquids to pills.

  • Tell the healthcare provider if the pain medicine is not working. They can adjust the medicine before your child’s pain gets severe.

    • Pain in babies and toddlers.  Signs of pain include crying that can’t be soothed, anxious facial expressions, or changes in sleeping. A sweaty forehead or fast pulse may also be a sign of pain.

    • Pain in older children.  Talk with your child about their pain. Your child may be able to describe the pain, answer questions about it, or even point to the painful area. If a child has trouble describing pain, use a pain scale with faces.

Using medicine safely

  • Always call your child's healthcare provider before giving medicine to a child under 2 years of age.

  • If your baby is under 3 months old and has a fever, call your child's healthcare provider right away.

  • For children 2 years of age and older, check the label to see how much medicine to give. Use your child's weight to determine the dose. If you don't know your child's weight, go by your child's age for the dose amount.

  • Never give adult medicines to children.

  • Never give aspirin to anyone younger than 18 who is ill with a fever, unless approved by the healthcare provider.

  • Never give your child another child's prescription medicine.

  • Only use the dosing device that comes with the medicine.

  • Keep medicines out of reach of children. If possible, store medicines in a locked cabinet away from children and teens.

  • If you think your child has taken too much medicine, contact Poison Control right away at 800-222-1222.

  • If you have any questions about your child's medicines, call the healthcare provider before giving them.

Treating pain without medicine

In babies and toddlers:

  • Try holding, rocking, cuddling, or massaging your child. Physical touch can be soothing. 

  • Wrap (swaddle) your infant tightly in a warm blanket.

  • Hold your child next to your bare skin. Skin-to-skin contact can be comforting.

  • Encourage thumb sucking or using a pacifier. This may soothe babies and toddlers.

In older children:

  • Try holding, rocking, cuddling, or massaging your child. Physical touch can be soothing to a child of any age.

  • Help distract your child from the pain with play. Try blowing bubbles, watching videos, telling stories, or playing with toys or games. Your child might enjoy listening to music, reading or being read to, or doing arts and crafts.

  • Try guided imagery. This is done by having your child imagine a pleasant or happy scene. They should focus on the scene’s sights, smells, and feelings. This can help take the child’s attention away from pain.

  • Help your child with relaxation exercises. Relaxation loosens tense muscles and calms an anxious mind. An older child who can follow instructions may try controlled breathing. Taking long, deep breaths can reduce heart rate and blood pressure. Relaxation can also help reduce pain and relieve nausea.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider as advised.

Special note to parents

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s care or the pain management strategies you are using, talk with your child’s healthcare provider.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Pain isn't getting better, even with pain medicine

  • Pain is getting worse

  • New symptoms, or symptoms get worse

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