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  • Anjana Kundu, MD

7 Proactive ways for a parent to support their child in chronic pain and ensure a successful school

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Hope your summer has been wonderful. I'm back from a long summer break overseas and just in time for the new school year. This video and blog post offer strategies for parents to help their children in return to school and setting them up for succes.

I did a few Facebook Live over the summer and this is one of them. I'm including the video from there and below this video is a written synopsis of what is covered in the video.

With as many as 1 in 3 school aged children suffering from chronic pain, it can be extremely disruptive on every level from school attendance, lack of sleep to friendship issues.

School in itself brings with it a lot of responsibilities and challenges for kids ranging from the academic demands, emotional demands, social demands and cognitive demands. And for kids living with chronic pain, school is an even bigger challenge. Ordinary parts of a school day that most kids take for granted – going to class, sitting at a desk, concentrating on assignments, walking to the cafeteria – become much harder.

When kids deal with conditions such as headache, abdominal pain, musculoskeletal pain like back/neck pain, juvenile arthritis, fibromyalgia or certain pain syndromes, managing well at school is a major accomplishment. It takes preparation and deliberate efforts.

The first week back at school is usually the worst. Every day gets a little better. For some kids who have been out of school for years, it's a huge transition to get back and may need a lot more support.

Here's how parents can help support their kids through their school year and help the kids succeed.

1. Simulate school environment

Before the school starts, you can simulate the school environment such that your child wears their backpack.

They walk distances similar to what they may need to do in school, take the stairs etc.

Practice tasks such as reading, writing and cognitive challenge with math games etc. whatever it may be to help them function in school.

2. Planning return to school based on your child’s capabilities.

Think about your child's capabilities as well as the demands of school. Some kids might need a more gradual return to school, starting with shorter periods of a few hours a day, then increasing as kids can better tolerate sitting, standing and walking.

3. Have a plan for managing pain exacerbations at school.

It is helpful for your child to have a place to go to in school, if they experience a pain exacerbation. This might be the nurse’s office or the health room, or a library or even another classroom, where they can take a five-to-10-minute break. Obviously, you will need to work with the school authorities to arrange this, preferably ahead of the school start. School offer the Individualized education plans, special accommodations etc. at school.

4. Promote a positive focus.

For kids who function in pain, the right mindset and attitude are very important. You will serve your child much better if you use language like “How was your day in school?” rather than “What was your pain number at lunch?” So you're always focusing on the positive – what they were able to do."

5. Don't over schedule your child with chronic pain.

It can be tempting at the beginning of the year to really want your child, who maybe has not been involved in a lot of activities, to be immersed right away. Instead, you should start with a few activities, see how they are handling them and then gradually add on more as your child does well.

6. Maintain regular physical activity.

It helps kids function better. It releases endorphins, that have natural pain relieving effects, uplifts your mood, keeps them social, promotes healthier sleep patterns. It can be as simple as walking, biking or an organized sport. Swimming is good option for kids who need lower-impact exercise.

7. Set up a network of care

You and your child may feel more safe, supported and confidant about their success if you know you have a network of individuals you can tap into if needed. This may include physical or occupational therapists, pain psychologist, massage therapist, acupuncturist, a social worker and a pediatric physician.

Please leave your comments, suggestions and any tips that have worked for you and your child, below or contact us directly.

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