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Pain. 2008 Aug 15;138(1):172-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2007.12.005. Epub 2008 Jan 24.

Parental response to children's pain: the moderating impact of children's emotional distress on symptoms and disability.

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  • 1Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, 333 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Parental responses play a central role in the development and maintenance of children's pain behavior. Previous studies examining the impact of parental responses on children's pain have focused mainly on protective or solicitous responses. This study examined the impact of parental responses, including protectiveness, minimization of pain, and encouraging and monitoring responses, on children's functional disability and somatic symptoms. Participants included 327 patients with chronic pain, ages 8-17, who completed measures of pain, disability, somatic symptoms, depression, and anxiety. Patients' parents completed a measure assessing parental responses to their children's pain. Results show that for children with higher levels of emotional distress, maladaptive parental responses to pain (e.g., criticism, discounting of pain, increased attention to pain, and granting of special privileges) were associated with increased disability and somatic symptoms. Results of this study demonstrate the important ways in which parents can influence how their children cope with and manage chronic pain. Children whose parents are overly protective or critical of their pain may experience more impairment or somatic symptoms, particularly those children who are already at risk for difficulties due to higher levels of emotional distress.

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