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Chronic Pain

5 Tips for Going Back to School with Chronic Pain

Help your child have a great start to the school year

Parents often ask us what they can do to help their child with chronic pain have a successful school year. Starting a new school year can be especially hard for children who missed a lot of school the previous year. Starting the school year right can set your child up for success. Check out our 5 tips to help your child have a positive start to the school year.

1. Think about what your child’s capabilities are in relation to the physical, emotional, and cognitive demands of school.

Many children with chronic pain have been out of school for a long time. If your child has had trouble attending school but would like to go back full time, talk to the school staff about gradually increasing the amount of time your child spends in school over several weeks. For example, you can start with having your child in school 2 or 3 hours a day and then add an additional hour every 3-4 days. As your child experiences success, he or she will build their physical capacity for sitting, standing, and walking during the school. He or she will also experience greater confidence and motivation. If your child has missed considerable content in major subject areas (e.g., English, Math) due to absences in prior years, you might consider obtaining additional learning support for your child through tutoring.

2. Make a plan with your child for coping with pain at school.

Plans for coping with pain at school can be simple. Here are a few ideas: get up and stretch during class, take 5-10 minute rest breaks during the school day, use distraction if pain flares (e.g., draw, listen to music, or ask friends to tell you a funny story). Talk with your child about what he or she can do to feel more comfortable at school. Once you and your child have come up with some ideas, talk to the school staff to see what they can do to help.

3. Don’t overschedule your child at the start of the school year.

It can be tempting to sign up for activities and attend each back to school event at the start of the school year. However, having a lot of things scheduled right away can make it hard for your child to adjust to the pace of being back to school. We recommend starting out the school year with no or very few extra-curricular activities. You can add in activities after your child adjusts to being back to school and experiences success.

4. Have a positive attitude.

Tell your child that you expect the school year to go well. Children and teenagers may act like they don’t care about what their parents think. In reality, this is not true. Your child watches you closely for cues about whether you believe he or she will be able to accomplish something. You have an opportunity to set the tone for your child by conveying your own optimism. Tell your child “We are going to work together to help you be successful in school this year.”

5. Praise your child for any efforts related to school.

Pay attention to the efforts your child is making in school. Is your child going to school when he or she doesn’t feel well? Is your child staying in school instead of coming home early? Is your child completing homework on time? Praise any positive effort you see your child making in school. Praise works better when it is specific. For example, “Great job staying in school today even though you didn’t feel well,” or “You worked hard to finish all of your homework before dinner—nice job!” You can also interpret challenging situations more favorably. For example, your child may complain about having to stay in school when he or she has a pain flare. You can tell your child “Learning to stay in school even when you don’t feel well will help you to stay on track to graduate. You won’t have to make up work, you won’t have to go to summer school, and you’ll have lots of time to do fun things next summer.”

The Take-Away Message

There are many things parents can do to help their children with chronic pain succeed in school. Working together with your child and the school staff can help your child have a great start to the school year.

Tell us about your back to school experiences – what has been going well and what challenges are you facing?

More from Tonya Palermo Ph.D., and Emily Law, Ph.D.
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