Testing the intergenerational model of transmission of risk for chronic pain from parents to their children: an empirical investigation of social transmission pathways

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Children of parents with chronic pain have higher rates of pain and internalizing (eg, anxiety and depressive) symptoms than children of parents without chronic pain. Parental modeling of pain behaviour and reinforcement of child pain have been hypothesized to underlie these relationships. These mechanisms were tested in a sample of 72 parents with chronic pain and their children (aged 8-15 years). Standardized measures were completed by parents (pain characteristics, pain interference, and child internalizing) and children (pain catastrophizing, pain over previous 3 months, and internalizing). In a laboratory session, children completed the cold pressor task in the presence of their parent, and parent–child verbalizations were coded. Significant indirect effects of parental pain interference on child self-reported (B = 0.12, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.01-0.29) and parent-reported (B = 0.16, 95% CI: 0.03-0.40) internalizing symptoms through child pain catastrophizing were found (parental modeling mechanism), and were not moderated by child chronic pain status. Significant indirect effects were found between parent pain-attending verbalizations and child self-reported (B = 2.58, 95% CI: 1.03-5.31) and parent-reported (B = 2.18, 95% CI: 0.93-4.27) cold pressor task pain intensity and tolerance (B = −1.02, 95% CI: −1.92 to −0.42) through child pain-attending verbalizations (parental reinforcement mechanism). Although further understanding of the temporal relationships between these variables is needed, the current study identifies constructs (eg, parent pain interference, child pain catastrophizing, and parent reinforcement of child pain) that should be further examined as potential targets for prevention and intervention of pain and internalizing symptoms in children of parents with chronic pain.

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