About

Born of Pain

1step2life was born of pain.  Not my own pain, but my son’s.

Dr. Darling and son

My name is Nancy Darling.  As a developmental psychologist, I’ve studied parent-adolescent relations in the US, South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. All of that theory came crashing down when suddenly, out of the blue, my healthy, happy son had his first migraine.  Within six months he was curled up in his bed, under the covers, in the dark, shaking from pain.  School, friends, time with family – every simple thing that makes up the life of a healthy teen – seemed suddenly out of reach.

All the advice I was given – good research-backed treatment from some of the best specialists in the world – seemed impossible to implement and completely counter-intuitive.

“Send your child to school”
“Follow a strict diet.”
“Aerobic exercise, 5 times a week.”
“3 liters of water a day.”
“He’s got to meditate.”

Did they have any idea what it was like parenting a kid in pain?  I got excellent advice, but following it all seemed impossible when my son could barely stumble to the bathroom.

Giving Science Away

Since 1984, I have been studying teenagers’ social relationships. Teens and their parents differ in the US, the Philippines, Chile, Sweden, Italy, and Uganda. But they have at least one thing in common: parents try to get kids to do things, and teenagers resist. Studying how and why adolescents choose to do what their parents ask has provided foundational research for our app: 1step2life.

My son’s severe chronic pain changed all of our lives. In doctors offices, in hospitals, with physical therapists and psychologists, teens in pain were just teens. And the more time I spent talking to the mothers, fathers, grandmothers, friends, and supporters of kids in pain, the clearer it was. Developmental psychology – the branch of psychology that focuses on age-related changes in behavior – could help make pain rehabilitation more effective.

Parents As Coaches

For years after my son got sick, his illness consumed our family. I still felt I was failing. His pain was getting worse. He was barely holding on to school – even though his principal and teachers were bending over backward to get him through. His friends fell away.

Every time I looked at him, my first thought was ‘how much pain is he in?’. I held my tongue – knowing asking made it worse.

But my first words would often start “Have you . . . ? ” You know the drill:

  • “taken your medicine?”
  • “done your physical therapy?”
  • “exercised?”
  • “had enough water?”

And if he WAS already, there was always asking about homework.

Healthy parenting fosters the development of healthy autonomy in children. My advisor, one of the founders of Head Start, Urie Bronfenbrenner, argued that children develop best with the “maximum of challenge and the maximum of support.”

We need to support our children by helping them become strong, capable, and able to take control of their lives.

We also need to parent in a way that builds the foundation for a positive life-long relationship built on respect, love, and enjoying each other’s company.

There is more to a parent-child relationship than caregiving.

Doctors tell teens in pain what they need to do to take back their lives. But it’s parents who help their teens do it. The concept behind the 1step2life app is simple: use cutting edge rehabilitation and developmental science to support teens in pain and those who love them.


Help Us Help You!

We want to make this site and the 1step app the most helpful resource we can. If you are a teen in pain or a parent who is trying to help and support your child, we want to hear from you. If you’re a healthcare provider, a school nurse, or a teacher working with youth in pain, we want to hear from you.

Sign up for our newsletter and be involved as we try out the beta versions of our app and we develop more content to make this the best resource it can be.


Let’s build something together.