Franck, L., Noble, G. and Liossi, C.
From tears to words: the development of language
to express pain in young children with everyday
minor illnesses and injuries
Child: Care, Health and Development (doi:10.1111/j.1365-2214.2010.01084.x).
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Background: little is known about the development of language to express pain in the young or how children and parents verbally communicate when young children have everyday minor illnesses and injuries.
Methods: UK parents of children between the ages of 1 and 6 were invited to complete an Internet survey on children's pain language during everyday situations of minor illness or injury.
Results: of the 1716 parents completing the survey, 45% reported their child had at least one word to express pain by 17 months of age, increasing to 81% by 23 months of age. Children used different words based on their age and in the contexts of minor illnesses and injuries, with words for expressing pain related to illness emerging slightly later. Children's language was purposeful in describing causes of pain and requesting specific forms of assistance from parents even in the very youngest age groups. Parents' communicated with their children primarily to gain further information about the source and nature of pain and to direct children's behaviour.
Conclusions: children rapidly develop an extensive vocabulary to describe pain between 12 and 30 months of age, with words for pain from injury emerging first and reflecting the development of normal speech acquisition. The differences in verbal expressions in the context of minor illnesses and injuries suggest that children make a cognitive distinction between the origins and sensory aspects of pain. These findings can help parents, childcare and healthcare professionals to appreciate the early communication capabilities of young children and to engage in more effective pain assessment and management for young children.
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