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The effectiveness of parental distraction during children's acute pain: The moderating effect of socioeconomic status

Background: Parental responses to children's pain shape how children interpret and cope with pain symptoms through parental modelling and operant conditioning. Evidence suggests that parental distraction is effective in reducing children's acute pain responses, but findings are inconsistent across pain tolerance, intensity and unpleasantness, and are limited to samples of primarily middle and upper-middle class families. Although socioeconomically disadvantaged families may have fewer psychological resources to cope with pain, no studies have examined whether the utility of parent distraction varies by family socioeconomic status (SES). The current study tested the hypothesis that relations between parental distraction and acute pain responses in children vary by family SES, with children from higher versus lower SES families experiencing more substantial benefits.

Methods: Children's pain symptoms and parents' use of verbal distraction during a cold pressor task were examined in a community sample of 530 twin children aged 7-12 years old and their primary caregivers.

Results: Parental distraction was positively associated with children's pain tolerance and unrelated to intensity and unpleasantness, but these associations are qualified by significant moderation. In families with higher SES, parental distraction was an effective technique in children's pain management, associated with more pain tolerance and less pain intensity and unpleasantness. However, for families with lower SES, these same benefits were not present.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that the effectiveness of parental distraction for children's acute pain may depend on family SES.

Significance: Study findings suggest that the effects of parental distraction on children's responses to an acute pain task vary by family SES. Although parental distraction may be effective for higher SES children, further research is needed to identify whether and why distraction may not be beneficial for lower SES families. 

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European Journal of Pain
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