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Managing pain in kids during minor procedures: A tricky balance



Tailor the approach to the individual child

Some children will want to watch what you’re doing, but normally Dr. Krauss uses towels or blankets to cover the area being worked on. “If the child is part of your practice and you know his temperament and coping style, that makes it a lot easier; you know how to approach him,” he said. “They can trust you but they still can be quite fearful.” Sometimes, the child is relaxed but the parent becomes anxious. That anxiety can be transmitted to child. “If I see that the parents are anxious, I work directly with the child, and not the parent,” he said. “There’s not much I can tell a parent verbally that’s going to change their anxiety or fear level. But, as soon I start moving the child’s emotional state from fear to trust, the parent senses that and they relax, and that gets transmitted back to the child.”

Use age-appropriate language

When treating infants and children, Dr. Krauss often uses “parentese,” a simplified way that parents use to talk to young children. “It’s clearer, simpler, more attention-maintaining, and has longer pauses,” he said. “That can be very comforting to children.” Content and phrasing become important in older children. “You want to avoid the nocebo effect,” he continued. “If you tell a child, ‘This is really going to sting or hurt,’ you’re tipping the scales toward them having that experience.”

In an article about behavioral approaches to anxiety and pain management for pediatric venous access, Lindsey L. Cohen, PhD, devised a list of suggested phrasing to use. For example, instead of saying “You will be fine; there is nothing to worry about,” ask, “What did you do in school today?” as a form of distraction. Instead of saying, “It will feel like a bee sting,” ask, “Tell me how it feels.” And instead of saying, “Don’t cry,” say, “That was hard; I am proud of you” (Pediatrics 2008;122[suppl 3]:S134-9).

In a more recent article, Dr. Krauss and colleagues discussed current concepts of managing pain in children who present to the emergency department (Lancet 2016;387:83-92). Among distracting activities to try with infants and preschoolers are blowing bubbles, the use of a lighted wand, sound, music, or books, they noted. Distracting activities to try with preschoolers and in older children include art activities such as drawing, coloring, and the use of play dough, and computer games.

Clinicians also can ask the child to engage in a developmental task as a form of distraction. Dr. Krauss recalled a 22-month-old boy who presented to the emergency department with a forehead laceration. Mindful that the boy was developing eye-hand coordination and fine motor activity, Dr. Krauss offered him a coloring book that contained a picture of a clown, and instructed him to color the clown’s eyes red while Dr. Krauss tended to the wound. “His attention was completely fixed on that learning task,” he said.

Dr. Krauss reported having no financial disclosures.


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