To limit nagging pain, your child can learn to step outside of immediate discomfort through the use of techniques that help to distract and relax.
These techniques, which take time to develop, use the mind to reverse some of the effects of pain on the body, such as tensed muscles and rapid breathing. Or, they can temporarily distract your child.
In general, relaxation techniques are deceptively simple, although they can assume a variety of forms. One method, called progressive muscle relaxation, involves tightening and relaxing various muscle groups in the body, moving slowly up the body from the toes to the head.
Your child should hold each muscle as tight as she can for 5 to 10 seconds before allowing it to relax. You can help guide her through the process: “Tighten all the muscles in your feet. Spread your toes, flex your ankles. Hold it, tighter, tighter, hold it. Now let it go.”
Encourage your child to picture the tension flowing out as the muscles relax. Slow, deep breaths can help, allowing your child to release all of the air from her lungs and, perhaps, a bit of pain in the process.
Another technique, called imagery, incorporates pleasant images to transport your child’s mind away from aching joints. You can shop for CDs to assist with the process, although they aren’t necessary. Your child only needs a quiet setting, such as a bedroom, with the lights dimmed.
While your child lies down with eyes closed, you can help direct the imagery process, suggesting that she focus on a pleasant image. Encourage her to place herself there by describing some of the things she can see, smell, hear or touch. Keep in mind that what adults find pleasant and what children find pleasant can be different. A sandy beach may be appropriate for a grown-up, but a child’s peaceful place may be splashing in the pool and playing on the playground.
For older children, relaxing in the quiet of their room with their favorite music may be all that is needed to achieve relaxation.
With age and confidence, your child can become more adept at performing these techniques. In the process, your child develops a sense of autonomy by acquiring strategies that can be used at any time, even when a parent isn’t nearby.