Hesperian Health Guides

How to treat a child in pain

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Live with HIV > Chapter 13: Helping children with pain > How to treat a child in pain


Pain should be treated as soon as possible — there is always a way to help a child feel less pain. A child in less pain is happier and also has more energy to fight illness, grow, and develop. See how to treat pain.

For a child with HIV, the most important way to reduce pain for the long term is to give him ART every day (see Chapter 11). ART prevents many illnesses that cause pain.

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Treating all infections, wounds, or illnesses will lessen pain in children. Chapter 12 has information on how to treat common skin problems, stomach pains, ear infections, fevers, coughs, sore throat, and other infections that cause children pain.

How to help a child in pain

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How we care for children can lessen pain. If possible, keep your child at home, not in a hospital. Familiar surroundings, not too bright or noisy, being close to you, and gentle touch all ease a child’s pain.

Cuddle, carry, or rock your baby and protect her from too much light or noise. Being wrapped in a soft cloth can comfort her. Breastfeed more often if your baby has pain.

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thread spools
slices of plastic bottle
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  • Make a mobile to hang over the baby’s bed. It can take her attention away from her pain.
  • Gently massage your child with oil or lotion. This can relax the child’s body, reduce pain, and keep the child’s skin healthier.
  • To prevent bed sores, help a child change positions every 2 hours.
 a woman speaking to a child
Blow slowly and feel the pain go out.
 a man speaking to a child
Which feels better, warm or cold?
 a woman speaking to a child
Here dear, take some soup.
  • Use a child’s magical thinking. Show her how to blow out her pain, or let it go into a stone.
  • Heat or cold can help with pain. Use hot or cold water to make a cloth warm or cool, and put it on the painful part.
  • Sometimes a little food helps. Offer food, but do not force a child to eat.
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  • Gently squeeze her hand or press lightly but firmly on another part of her body.
  • Rock the child with a slow, steady motion.
  • Teach the child to take slow, controlled breaths.


Take your child’s mind off his pain. Playing with him, telling stories, and singing or playing music are good ways to hold his attention. Older children may also be able to read, do puzzles, listen to the radio, watch TV, or make things.


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a woman speaking to a young boy.
Who wants to hear a story about 3 brothers?
I do! Tell it!
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If the illness cannot pass to others, ask a child’s friends to come and play with her at home. Reassure their families that it is safe.

Older children used to being with their friends are often lonely when they are sick and hurting. While you treat your child’s illness and pain, also look for ways she can play. Even sick children need to play

a woman talking to a young girl.
Keep thinking of the place you are happy and breathe slowly.

You can teach a child ways of breathing and thinking that can ease pain and worries. Ask her to think of a place or activity that makes her happy. Then teach her to count to 4 as she slowly breathes in, holds her breath briefly, and then breathes out slowly, counting to 4 or 5. Repeat several times.

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Ask a local tailor to keep fabric scraps for you and make a comfort pillow or doll with your child. Like a “security blanket” or favorite toy, it will make her feel better.


This page was updated:27 Nov 2019