There is so much pressure on our children today to perform well in sports that many children and their parents overlook the importance of responding appropriately to pain. Often children are so eager to not let down the team or to please a coach that they don’t even tell their parents when they are hurting. In addition, our sports culture encourages athletes to grin and bear it, to be tough, to play through the pain, and so on.

And parents often reinforce this culture. But many kids who focus on one sport too early end up distorting their structural development by ignoring signs that they are overdoing it. And even those who cross train or do several sports may have such a busy schedule that they don’t stop to tend to a sore muscle or pulled tendon.

Often youngsters and young adults undergo surgery unnecessarily because their bodies would heal well on their own with some time and attention.

Our bodies have an amazing mechanism for alerting us that it is time to rest and heal. It is called “pain.” Pain is what we notice when a part of our bodies is under stress, injured, or in need of time to repair. Even internal organs which we normally are not aware of, like stomach, kidneys, or sciatic nerve, can send pain messages to our brain to tell us something is wrong. It is a sad state of affairs now that doctors often treat pain without taking the time to find out exactly why the patient is hurting or without taking the trouble to explain to the patient how to support the body’s own awesome healing powers with lots of rest, good nutrition, healthy water, fresh air, and positive thoughts.

But we parents can make the effort to discover what our children are experiencing. Sure we might hope our child will go to college on an athletic scholarship, but is it worth it to start her or him too early and wind up with serious challenges in a decade or two with sore shoulders, back injuries, concussion symptoms, or hormonal problems? Do take the time to research when it is really safe for a growing child to take up a demanding sport. And if your child is eager to get going, choose a program which is not too demanding and find a team and coach who puts the health and well-being of the children above competition and machismo.

Bookworms and nerds can experience pain too. Many children now are experiencing problems with their thumbs from texting, or other repetitive stresses in hands, arms, shoulders or back from video games or poor ergonomics at their study and play space. Listen for complaints and try to make changes or suggest a different position, more space, or more breaks. Make sure pure water is available at all times and see that meals with good quality protein, vegetables, and quality fats are regular. Minimize the high carb low nutrition snacks. For younger children whose environment you still control, you can just not have these temptations in the house.

Children who are feeling bad because of a cold or flu are often in pain too, but we are eager to get them back to school or daycare and use medications to suppress overt symptoms. Yet it has been known for a long time that rest and clear liquids are the answer for such infections, and that the use of pain medications and other drugs to suppress symptoms actually prolongs the infection and leaves the patient more likely to get sick again. By the way, the old adage “Feed a cold, starve a fever,” has been severely misused. It is not two separate pieces of advice. It is instead a warning: “If you feed a cold, you will have to starve a fever.” When your child has an infection, let her or him rest and eat lightly, so that she or he doesn’t have to eat a lot to keep going. Instead, by resting and letting digestion rest, the body’s enzymes can go to work with the immune system to rub out the infection which is causing the problem and the pain.

No matter what the source of a child’s pain, make sure they get enough rest. It is in the deep sleep that most of healing happens, along with most immunological repair and muscle regrowth, as well as developmental growth. Many parents find that their children are staying up late texting or playing video games. If a young child gets sort of addicted to these things, make sure screens are removed from the bedroom. With older children, have them research online what poor sleep can do to affect their grades, their moods, and their health.

Parents should acknowledge and respond appropriately to their own experiences of pain too. If nothing else, you will be setting a good example. But also to be the best parent you can be, you too must be comfortable, rested, nourished, and not in pain.

You would think with all the prescription drug adds in the media today that pain is just a daily thing we all must suppress or ignore. Especially with job security on the wane and wage income low, adults are eager not to miss workdays. But this is at our peril. If we listen to our bodies and pay attention when our brains tell us something is wrong, we can address the problem and in the vast majority of cases return to a pain-free and happy condition and be more productive and high in morale as well.

We are meant to enjoy life and we are given the tools to recognize when something needs to change to bring back the joy. If you or your child is in pain, do your research to find out what is causing it and what you can do to help your body correct the source. Don’t over-medicate or try to ignore the problem. I often say that if you ignore or cover up pain, your body will eventually force you to go flat on your back by increasing the pain or bringing on some other problem. Better to stop and think at the first sign of imbalance in your health than to go on ignoring your body’s wise advice.

Randy Rolfe’s Take Home Tips: Never ignore a child’s complaint. Even if you know it is just boredom or angst, repeat back what you hear with compassion and understanding. That way you will build rapport and open the door to hearing more about what is really on your child’s mind. Pain does not just go away unless true healing is taking place. As parents, we must help our children find the solutions they need and deserve.

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