All children, even babies, can feel pain. When a child’s pain is untreated, it can cause them to heal more slowly or be more sensitive to pain as they get older. This is why it’s important to know how to tell if a child is in pain, what you can do to treat it, and when to get medical care.
Children may have pain right after an injury or medical procedure, but sometimes it’s not clear what causes pain to start. For example, headaches and stomach aches can happen any time, and sometimes for no obvious reason.
Crying is one way your child may show they're in pain. But there are other ways children may react.
Very young children (infants and toddlers) may:
Older children may be able to tell you they’re in pain. If you think your child is in pain, you can ask them using words they’ll understand, such as “Do you have an owie?” or “Are you hurt?”
If they say yes, ask if it hurts a little or a lot. If your child is older than 6, you can ask them to rate their pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the most pain they can imagine.
But remember, everyone’s pain is different, and your child’s 7 out of 10 pain may not mean the same thing as your 7 out of 10 pain. It’s important to talk to your child and understand what they need.
There are ways to manage your child’s pain without using medicines, such as:
You can use these strategies with or without medicine to help manage pain.
If your child is in pain, let them know you understand they're in pain and treat it based on their age and medical condition.
If your child is having pain for a reason that you don’t know or the pain appears to be more than you’d expect, talk to your child’s healthcare provider or call Health Link at 811 to find out what to do.
To treat your child’s pain, you can give them a non-prescription (over-the-counter) pain medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol or Tempra) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin).
You can get these medicines as a liquid, pill (tablets) or chewable tablets. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen both treat pain and a fever. Ibuprofen is also an anti-inflammatory medicine, so it’s a better option to manage pain in injuries with swelling.
The dose of these medicines is based on your child’s weight. Follow the directions on the container or the advice of your child's doctor or pharmacist.
Opioids are type of prescription medicine that treat serious pain. Morphine is an opioid that's sometimes prescribed to manage pain when other pain medicines, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, don’t work. Your child may get morphine through a vein (called intravenous or IV morphine) or by mouth as a pill or liquid. Morphine is safe to use in children, including newborn babies, for short amounts of time.
The dose of morphine is based on your child’s age and weight. If your child is still having pain or has side effects after taking morphine, their healthcare provider may raise or lower the dose. Your child’s healthcare team will let you know if the dose needs to be changed.
As with all types of medicines, opioids can cause side effects. Some common side effects of opioids don’t need medical help and will likely go away within a few days of starting the medicine. These side effects include feeling:
If you can’t reach your child’s healthcare provider, go to the nearest urgent care centre or emergency department. If your child has trouble breathing or you can’t wake them up, call 911.
Current as of: February 18, 2021
Author: Solutions for Kids in Pain, Alberta Health Services
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.