Reviewed by: Dr Tony Ganado, FRCA, Consultant Anaesthetist.
There are many different influences on how children perceive pain.
Previous experiences of pain
A child’s previous experience of pain may alter his or her perception
of pain, for example, infants may cry in anticipation during subsequent
visits to immunisation clinics.
Somewhat surprisingly, it has been documented that a child’s
religious environment may influence their perception of pain. For
example: Jewish people seek help, sympathy and second opinions, Hindus
associate pain with karma, and some Christians believe that pain is a
punishment for sin whilst others believe that God allows pain but
enables them to suffer it.
Culture has also been shown to affect a child’s response and reaction to pain:
- British children tend to be stoical, but prefer to have company when they are in pain.
- Australian children prefer to be alone.
- Italian children tend to be more depressed and honest about their
pain and concerned that they should be given immediate pain relief.
- Kikuyu and Masai men are expected to be quiet and dignified about their pain, but women are not.
Gender and personality
It has been suggested that boys tolerate pain better than girls.
However, in experience, there is very little difference. There may be a
difference in the expression of pain, with girls being more vocal and
boys less (with the expectation that ‘big boys don’t cry’.)
Personality tests have revealed that extroversion has been associated
with a higher tolerance to pain and introversion to a greater
sensitivity to pain. Introverts, however, may complain less.
The influence of society and family
As children we developed and learned how to interact socially by
mimicking the behaviour of our parents and other adults. Therefore, it
follows that a child in a particular family will be influenced by how
other family members cope with pain and their reaction to it. We have
all seen that when children trip or fall, they tend to look immediately
to their parent for reassurance - and also for their reaction. If the
parent reacts with a smile and makes light of the incident, then the
child usually does the same, while if the parent reacts in an anxious
manner, the child may often cry and make a fuss.