Behaviours that indicate pain in children

What non-verbal signs could indicate that a child is in pain?

There are certain behaviours that will indicate whether the child is experiencing acute or chronic pain.

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Non-verbal signs of acute pain

Facial expressions

Groaning or crying


Posture curled or flat & straight

Lying very still or thrashing about

Non-verbal signs of chronic pain

Fear of being moved.

Posture may be abnormal.

Disinterest in their surroundings or withdrawn.

Lack of appetite.

Lack of any facial expression Irritability and moody.

Getting angry quickly or becoming subdued and quiet.

Not wanting to play or interact with peers.

School performance may be affected

Can pain be assessed by just watching a child’s behaviour?

Look at this picture below. Could this  “behaviour” suggest that this young girl may be experiencing pain?  Yes/no/maybe?

Children have individual strategies of managing or coping with pain that may either be innate or learned. Therefore their behaviour may not provide a realistic presentation of the pain they are experiencing.

How can you identify if a child is experiencing pain?

A thorough pain assessment will help identify if a child is experiencing pain. A thorough assessment is a comprehensive evaluation of the child’s pain, symptoms, daily functioning ability, clinical and psychosocial history. Accurate assessments requires ongoing conversations between the care providers (parents and family), the child and the healthcare team.