Adolescents whose parents suffer from
chronic pain may be more likely to develop ongoing pain too – especially if the
parent tends to 'catastrophise' pain, according to new research.
"Children are careful observers of
everything that we do as parents, and how we respond to our pain and to their
pain is no different," said Anna Wilson, a psychologist at Oregon Health
& Science University who led the study.
Sometimes acting worried or repeatedly
asking how a child is feeling can lead them to worry that the problem they are
having is serious, even if it isn't, Wilson said. "Unfortunately, we know
from many research studies that this (misplaced) worry tends to make pain
worse," she told Reuters Health.
Blowing pain out of proportion
In the study, 178 kids between the ages of
11 and 14 were recruited through their schools. They filled out questionnaires
asking about ongoing physical issues such as backaches, stomach pain and headaches,
as well as how much the pain interfered with their everyday lives. The
adolescents' parents answered similar questions about their own pain.
Both kids and parents also filled out
surveys focused on how they coped with the child's pain, such as whether parent
or child felt helpless about the condition or blew the pain out of proportion.
Chronic pain runs in the family
About one-fourth of adolescents and
two-thirds of parents in the study reported having chronic pain, and parental
pain was significantly linked to the likelihood of that parent's child having
Having a parent with pain and having a
parent who magnified the significance of pain boosted the risk that a child
would also put more emphasis on the pain's importance, the team reports in the
Journal of Paediatric Psychology.
take home point
The take-home point, according to Wilson,
is that the most helpful way to approach ongoing pain in a child – such as
repeated headaches or muscle aches – probably differs from the way a parent
might act when the child has a short-term illness like stomach flu or a
For that reason, it can be helpful for
parents with chronic pain to seek outside help to pinpoint their own strengths,
and to assist their kids in developing healthy ways to cope with pain and
discomfort. "Being a parent is hard; pain just makes it harder,"
Wilson said. "If you are a parent who has chronic pain and you are worried
about how it might be impacting your child, talk with your own doctor, a pain
psychologist or your child's doctor," she said.
Childhood abuse leads to chronic adult pain
Parents affect children's stress risk