How Not to Worry When Your Child Is in Pain
Children often fall and are severely injured. This is a feature, not a bug. You have to crawl before you can walk, you have to pass before you can run, and you have to trip over your clumsy legs five thousand times before your brain can figure out how to control your limbs.
Studying the physical realities of a person’s relationship to gravity is a painful process both for the person experiencing this and for the person who must keep this person from accidental murder. When you are caring for a child, every day of preschool age makes you feel uncomfortable. You feel like an extra in MASH. Even in elementary school, your days will be marked by bursts of adrenaline-fueled triage.
There is no way to avoid this, but these tips will make life easier for you and your child.
Do not react
This is big. Start here. If you don’t learn to remain silent, your children will forever remain in their memories of the sounds of your grief. I can still hear my mother screaming in horror whenever she saw me or my brother jump from a tree, slide down a steep hill, or cycle too fast downhill. She screamed with impatience, and, like a Sly Coyote staring into thin air, it was only when we heard her that we realized the danger. And he ate shit on time.
When your child hits his knee on the asphalt and screams, he will see your face from the very first moment, should he be afraid. Do not smile or shout that everything will be fine. It sounds out of tune to everyone, even small children. Instead, let your facial features be a mask of indifference. Your heart may flutter, your armpits may sweat, but anyone looking in your face should mistake you for Larch of the Addams family.
Walk up to your fallen child with all conscious speed, mumble soothing phrases, and hug him. Hugs do so much. Your child will instantly feel safer and more relieved to be hugged. And you will look over their shoulder, allowing you to loosen the mask of indifference to the rictus of worry so he doesn’t notice.
Undoubtedly, part of your anxiety about trauma stems from the fear that you will not be able to help. If you are prepared, you will feel calmer. I have treated abrasions, bruises, insect bites, splinters, goose eggs and broken fingers. All of them hurt less after ice cream. But you can’t carry ice cream everywhere! However, you can carry a first aid kit with you.
Pre-packed packages are useless except for the plastic box they come in. Buy one, pour it out and top it with antibiotic ointment, a handful of patches, a few pieces of gauze, medical tape, tweezers, a bottle of chewable ibuprofen, a cold compress, hydrocortisone cream, and a pair of disposable gloves. Put this suction cup in your backpack (you don’t use a diaper bag, do you?) And take it with you every time you leave the house. Even if you are just walking around the block! Every time you don’t have a first aid kit, your child gets a full Evel Knievel.
Consider enrolling in a first aid course. Spend a little more and get CPR. It’s unlikely you’ll need these skills, but if Kool-Aid Man buries a bunch of preschoolers under a pile of bricks, you’ll be Johnny-in-place.
Look, playground time is Facebook time. I understand. You have a few moments of your own, and your scrolling finger is eager to scroll through your timeline. Don’t do it – or at least don’t do it for very long.
If you are really watching your child, then the moment when he falls will not come as a surprise. You will not be afraid of screaming, because you saw how they stumbled over the chips. You know that their hysteria is only for the sake of drama.
If it’s a bigger hit — a head jump into a monkey grid — you don’t have to ask the dazed child what happened. You simply take a cold compress from your medicine cabinet and take a deep, soothing breath, checking for signs of concussion.
Finally, if you are looking, then you are witnessing. I mean, if you witness a big kid in a green shirt pushing Junior off the carousel, you can go there and lecture Big Greenie (or take them to his guardians and give them a lecture).
This advice is the same for parents and children. Destruction is frightening, and fear aggravates pain. But if you get used to erasure – to relive it over and over again – then it’s not that scary. (The lie in this truism is my eternally screaming mother, but she was extremely stubborn.) You should arrange for your child to fall. Lot.
Let me be clear: don’t abuse your child. Do not throw them off a rooftop, cliff, or from a car. But take them on roller skates. Go to the trampoline park. Set up an obstacle course in your backyard. Push them from time to time (gently). I am still doing this. One evening we were walking around the neighborhood, and I pushed my daughter into the bushes. She screamed in surprise and then laughed because it was fun. Her younger brother was so agitated that he could hardly speak.
You teach your child how they feel when they fall, land, have a little pain, and then ignore it. To get up, dust yourself off and rejoin the game. There are many falls in childhood, and even if you are alert, you will not be there every time. Sooner or later, your child will fall when you are not around. If they ignore it, go ahead and show their battle wound at the dinner table, you will do a good job.