Backwards Parenting A Child With Pain

Brought to you by CHYP’s Parenting Blog

May 10th, 2021

By: Samantha Levy, PhD

I work with many parents who say that I tell them to do their parenting backwards when their child has pain.

What does “backwards parenting” mean?

Many, or even all, of the examples may feel counterintuitive — but there is a reason for all of them when trying to lift young people from their sick role, which is the main goal in resuming normal functioning.

This parenting style is very different from what you would do if your child had an acute injury or illness. In that situation, parents should be helpful, nurturing, and coddling.

With chronic illness or injury though, your job as a parent is to get your child back on their feet, literally and figuratively. That takes some backwards parenting!

Let Your Child Socialize Even When She Hasn’t Done Her Homework or Attended School.

Kids in pain often become isolated, either because they can’t attend school or can’t spend as much time with friends as they used to. This isolation can lead to even more anxiety and depression, which can exacerbate or prolong pain.

In addition, many kids with pain disorders have social anxiety. They’re already anxious about interacting with other kids, without the added stress of being out of the loop or having physical limitations.

Once we get the kids socializing, they often blossom, begin to feel stronger, and become more capable of doing work and attending school. Often when kids haven’t been in school or able to socialize regularly, they feel out of the loop and hesitate to resume school for this reason.

  • Staying in touch with friends is actually helpful in getting your child back to school.

A middle school client of mine did not want to go back to school because she knew her friends would be talking about gossip that she didn’t know anything about anymore. She had been fairly social before her pain disorder and was used to being in the know.

She had not been allowed to see friends because she wasn’t attending school. Her parents felt that allowing her to socialize would send the wrong message about work ethic.

She had become so isolated and worried about being out of the loop that she no longer even texted friends. She also felt that friends would not want to hang out with her because she couldn’t do much because of weakness, pain, and fatigue.

  • Develop a plan for your child to gradually increase socializing.

First, I had my client start with texting friends again. From there, she played video games with friends remotely.

She moved on to asking a friend to come hang out at her house to have pizza and watch a movie — which wouldn’t require a lot of energy. Her parents would be nearby in case she didn’t feel well, which was another plus.

She increased her social circle by inviting various friends over to her house. Gradually, she began venturing out for short periods of time.

As my client increased her socializing, she became more open to reintegrating slowly back into school.

  • It’s easier to encourage school attendance if your child has friends to get help from and look forward to seeing at school.

 My client asked a friend to catch her up on the latest class gossip, and no longer worried that she would be totally out of the loop. She felt this friend would be someone she could eat lunch with, and could help her, if needed, at school.

Some of the kids at school were nice to her and patient when she had to walk slowly. Some were definitely not nice. It was difficult for her to come to terms with who her real friends were — but that was also a life lesson.

Eventually, she realized that having a small group of close friends who she could trust was better than a larger group, some of whom might leave her out or be mean to her.

My client’s parents learned that being able to see friends before she reengaged with academics actually increased her ability to attend school and do homework — backwards parenting!


Samantha Levy, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who received her Ph.D. from Georgia State University in the Child and Family specialty track. During her clinical child internship at UCLA in the child track, she became involved with the Pediatric Pain Program (PPP). Subsequently, she obtained her postdoctoral training with the PPP. Depending upon the case, Dr. Levy works either with whole families, individual children/teens, or parents. She employs an array of psychological orientations (e.g. CBT, play therapy, mindfulness, meditation), to help the children/teens with their pain and any accompanying emotional issues. She helps the parents and patients understand the connections between the physical pain and emotional difficulties (mind/body connection). She teaches parenting skills and helps parents make plans to facilitate change in their children, such as in their difficult struggle to give their children the courage to begin functioning more fully in the world once again. Dr. Levy is open to conducting child, teen and parent support groups when there is interest. Dr. Levy is a member of CHYP’s Clinical Advisory Board.