Managing Your Child’s Pain

Most children need pain management in the hospital. Your child’s health care provider will assess your child’s pain and prescribe pain medication as needed. You can help your child by being supportive and staying with him or her in the hospital. Most importantly, you can alert the health care team if you notice any signs of pain or discomfort in your child.

Pain scale from 0 to 10. 0 shows happy face. Four more faces looking more and more unhappy go from 3 to 10.

How is your child’s pain assessed?

Children express pain differently from adults. A special scale may be used to help your child describe pain. The scale may have facial expressions and/or numbers. Changes in physical and emotional behavior can also provide clues to pain level.

What pain medications will your child receive?

There are many different pain medications. What kind your child receives depends on the cause of your child’s pain and the results of the pain assessment. Your child’s age, weight,  and health history are also factors. You may be worried that your child will become dependent on these medications. But they are given in controlled amounts over a set time. Your child’s health care provider can answer any of your questions or concerns.

Girl lying in hospital bed with IV in arm, holding button for PCA pump. Man is sitting next to bed.

How are pain medications given?

  • Pills, tablets, or liquid. These are taken by mouth. Some are swallowed and others dissolve in the mouth.

  • Suppository. This is placed in the rectum where the medicine is absorbed into the body.

  • Transdermal patch. This is placed on the skin to deliver pain medication through the skin where it is absorbed into the body.

  • Intravenous (IV) delivery. An IV (small tube) is inserted into a vein in the body to deliver pain medications.

  • PCA (patient-controlled analgesia) pump. A PCA pump uses an IV to supply medications. Your child can press a button and get more medication when he or she needs it. Safety features in the pump prevent your child from getting too much medication.

  • Intramuscular injection. Medication is injected directly into a muscle where it is absorbed by the body.

  • Regional anesthesia. This is a special kind of pain medication that is delivered near the spine. These methods (epidural or spinal) block pain in one section of the body, often from the waist down.

What are the side effects of pain medications?

Your child may experience some side effects. These usually go away when your child stops taking the medications. Side effects of pain medications can include:

  • Constipation

  • Sleepiness

  • Urinary retention (child can’t pass urine out of the body)

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Euphoria (child feels extreme happiness for a short time)

  • Hallucination (child sees things that aren’t there)

  • Allergic reaction (child’s body has a bad reaction to the pain medications)

How can you help manage your child’s pain?

  • Learn what you can about your child’s health problem. Your child can pick up on your fears and worries. By staying positive and upbeat, you can help relieve some of your child’s anxieties and discomfort.

  • Alert health care providers if you notice any signs of pain in your child. You may be able to tell from your child’s expressions if he or she is in pain. Your child may also become irritable, moody, cry more often, lose his or her appetite, or become withdrawn. Since you know your child better than anyone else, you are most likely to know if these behavioral changes suggest a problem.

  • Be honest if a medical procedure will cause your child pain. Explain the procedure to your child and answer his or her questions truthfully. Reassure your child that you’ll be with him or her or nearby during the procedures.

  • If your child is in pain, you can help by touching and holding your child. Stroke your child’s hair or hold his or her hand. Play games, watch videos, or read books with your child. Bring comfort items such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal from home to the hospital. Relaxation techniques such as blowing bubbles, listening to music, and slow and deep breathing can also help.

  • Ask your child’s health care provider for more resources about managing your child’s pain.


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