Family and parent influences on pediatric chronic pain: a developmental perspective

Am Psychol. 2014 Feb-Mar;69(2):142-52. doi: 10.1037/a0035216.


Pain that recurs or persists is unfortunately a common experience for children. One of the unique considerations in pediatric chronic pain management is the bidirectional influences of children's pain experiences and parental and family factors. In this review we present a developmental perspective on understanding pediatric chronic pain and disability, highlighting factors relevant from infancy to adolescence, and family and parent influences. Preliminary evidence indicates that developmental processes are influenced and may also shape the pediatric pain experience. Parent emotions, behaviors, and health also play a role in children's pain experiences, where overly protective parent behaviors, increased distress, and history of chronic pain are important parent-level influences. Research on family-level influences has revealed that families of children with chronic pain have poorer family functioning (e.g., more conflict, less cohesion) than families of healthy children. Several important gaps exist in this research, such as in understanding basic developmental processes in children with chronic pain and how they influence children's perception of and responses to pain. Also, there is a lack of longitudinal data on family relationships and individual adjustment to allow for understanding of whether changes occur in parenting over the course of the child's chronic pain experience. Although parent interventions have been successfully incorporated into many cognitive-behavioral treatments for children with chronic pain conditions, little guidance exists for adapting intervention strategies to be developmentally appropriate. Additional research is needed to examine whether parent interventions are effective at different developmental stages and the best way to incorporate developmental goals into treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development*
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Pain*
  • Family
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents*
  • Stress, Psychological