Children's pain - the facts

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Key points to remember

  • parents are often the best judges of their child's pain
  • listen to what they tell you and watch what they do
  • if worried or in doubt about your child's pain, talk to your local doctor or if you are in hospital, a nurse or doctor
  • if you are unsure of whether or not to give any medication for your child's pain, it is best to get advice from your doctor

What is pain?

Very young children or children who are very sick cannot always tell us exactly what they are feeling. This can be quite distressing for parents who may feel confused about what their child is experiencing. Parents know their child's usual reactions and behaviours.

Many things affect a child's experience of pain:

  • their age
  • their beliefs and understanding of what is causing the pain
  • their beliefs in their own ability to cope
  • their previous pain experiences and how they have seen other people dealing with pain
  • how they have learned to respond to pain

How long does pain last?

Acute pain

The term "acute pain" refers to pain that is not long-lasting. The pain may be caused by an operation, injury, illness, or medical procedure. Depending on what has caused the pain, the pain may last a few seconds (for example, a needle) through to a few weeks or months (for example, following an injury). Some pain from an operation is normal and is a part of the whole healing process. Acute pain can be helped with medications, which can be given by various methods. You can also help your child with acute pain by using non-drug methods such as relaxation and distraction techniques.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain lasts for a longer period of time, usually longer than three to six months. This pain can be constant or come and go at different times. It is sometimes difficult to find a cause for chronic pain. However there are treatments and special programs that can help your child cope better with chronic pain.

See Chronic or persistent pain.

How do you know your child is in pain?

It is not always easy to know how much pain your child is experiencing. Listening to what they say and watching what they do can help us.

Things that can show that your child is in pain include:

  • crying
  • facial changes or pulling a face
  • changes in their sleeping or eating patterns
  • becoming quiet and withdrawn
  • screaming
  • refusing to move

Some children may tell us they are sore or hurting but may find it difficult to say how much they are hurting.

Remember that changes in their behaviour can also occur because they are scared or frightened.

Children can use a scale such as the Faces Pain Scale - Revised below. This will involve asking your child to point to the face that shows how much hurt they are feeling from "no pain" on the left through to "very much pain" on the right.

Hicks C.L. and others. 2001. The Faces Pain Scale - Revised: Toward a common metric in pediatric pain measurement. Pain. 93:173-183.

Faces Pain Scale - Revised

Where to go for more information

On this website

Children's painful procedures and operations - how can parents help?
Helping your child manage their health care treatment / procedure
Pain and childhood cancer
Management of pain in childhood cancer
Treatment of pain in childhood cancer

Treatments for pain:

Anaesthesia and pain management - (information for kids)
Epidural analgesia
Nitrous oxide
Morphine infusion
PCA (patient controlled analgesia)

The Centre for Pediatric Pain Research, IWK Health Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada www.pediatric

The Centre for Pediatric Pain Research website provides information for families on helping children cope with painful procedures:

  • Pain, pain go away: Helping children with pain - a booklet to help parents understand pain
  • Making cancer less painful: A handbook for parents - a booklet to help parents understand pain and teach them how they can help their child deal with pain from cancer


Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledge the co-operation of The Children's Hospital at Westmead, Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick, and Kaleidoscope - Hunter Children's Health Network in making this fact sheet available to patients and families.

Hicks, CL, von Baeyer, CL, Spafford, PA, van Korlaar, I & Goodenough, B. (2001). The Faces Pain Scale - Revised: Toward a common metric in pediatric pain measurement. Pain, 93, 173-183 [Accessed 15/11/2010]

This page last reviewed 25 March 2013
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2015
Printed on 07 March 2015. Content is regularly updated so please refer to for the most up-to-date version
Content endorsed by the Paediatric Society of New Zealand