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Why Does Your Child's Pain Flare When You Ask Them to Unload the Dishwasher?

How is it that my kid can be scrolling on their phone laughing and the moment that I ask them to unload the dishwasher, their pain flares and they have to go lay down?!?! Or they can be hooting and hollering with their friends on their video games but their head hurts too much to take the garbage out?

This is very frustrating for parents. I feel like I have the insider scoop since I also have chronic pain (migraines 3-4x/week). Let me tell you what I’ve experienced and what I have learned from research…

We have talked about the nervous system being in a near constant state of fight or flight when our kids have daily pain. When the nervous system is in this high alert mode then everything that is unanticipated can seem like a threat (car horn honking, a scary part in a movie, weather changes, pop quiz, bright lights, a mom asking you to unload the dishwasher…).

If I am enjoying myself laughing with friends then: 1) I am not immediately noticing my increasing pain levels because I am distracted 2) An interruption to what I am doing pulls me away from my distraction so I notice my increased pain levels 3) An unanticipated request is a threat to my nervous system. I wasn’t expecting it. And my brain has learned to send extra pain to protect me from any perceived threat.

Pain can actually increase when you ask your kid to unload the dishwasher (or do any other chore)!!! Also, an interruption from distraction can cause them to scan their body and notice the increased pain.

I know it is crazy and seems like it is them just trying to get out of work. If they have energy to play video games, they should be able to use that energy to unload the dishwasher right? In the case of most people, yes. In the case of people with daily pain who are in a state of constant high alert, not so much.

So what do you do? Do your kids just never learn to help out around the house? Do we treat them like fragile snowflakes and give into their feelings all the time?

Nope. But we need to be strategic about how we handle things. We need to be smart so that we can work with their nervous system instead of against it. Here are some strategies that can help:

1) Schedule a time to talk to your child rather than making a request out of left field. Greta and I used to devote a little time on Sunday afternoons to talk about her goals for the week– this way she could anticipate it and her pain wouldn’t flare.

2) Add the chore to their list of upcoming goals - If you want your child to start unloading the dishwasher, add it to the list of upcoming weekly goals. It might mean they aren’t able to do it today, but you can rest assured that it will be a skill they learn in time. This way you can be at ease knowing that your child isn’t going to turn into a lazy, sloppy adult, and your child can be at ease knowing that each time they come into the kitchen they aren’t going to be asked to do something else. All our kids in this group are at varied levels of functioning. Some are in bed 24/7 and some are at school full-time, so the weekly goals need to be tailored to where are our kids are at now. If your child is in bed 24/7, likely unloading the dishwasher is not a good place to start. If your child is pretty functional then household chores might be on their list of weekly goals.

3) Each week you and your child can choose a goal to work on. This actually isn’t as easy as it sounds. There is a fine science to choosing weekly goals so that they are not overwhelming but are moving our kids in the direction of increasing their function. We need “just right” goals. They need to be small enough so that our kids can feel successful and motivated to keep increasing their function. That is why we break our bigger goals into smaller, microgoals. Setting goals and achieving them is usually most successfully accomplished when you and your child are working together to choose manageable goals that they will be able to accomplish regardless of fluctuating pain levels.

When it comes to chores, it is important to remind ourselves that our kids don’t choose to have a sensitive nervous system. They are not choosing more pain when we make a request. It is the way their body happens to automatically respond right now. Just like our mouths can start to water when we see an ad for a food we like. Or we feel nervous and get sweaty palms before a difficult conversation. It happens automatically.

Helping our kids to successfully participate in life again requires consistency, patience, and a lot of problem solving along the way. This is what we focus on in The Greta Method. We find the right amount that we can push your child to make progress without pushing them over the edge. We grow their capacity to function slowly and successfully. We work WITH their sensitive nervous systems to help them participate in life more without causing pain flares.

If you feel frustrated with not knowing how much to push your child, not knowing when to ask them to do chores, not knowing when to send them to school, and not knowing how to get them out of bed and participating in life again, reach out for support. I can help you get there.

Schedule a free 45 min call.

~ Carla

(Licensed Psychotherapist, Pain Coach, Certified Teacher)

The general contents of this website are provided solely for educational and informational purposes and are not meant to provide professional medical or psychiatric advice, counselling or therapeutic services.

If you parent a child who has chronic daily headaches and/or migraines, join our free Facebook group! (click the link below)

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