My family paid a visit to my mother last week, which is pretty normal for us. When we got there, my mother showed us a spot on her finger that she had hurt when she bumped it against the ice maker in her freezer. It was a surprising injury, because it was just a bump, and yet it had hurt her a lot. As the afternoon wore on, the bumped spot swelled into a line across her knuckle. Over the afternoon, while we were there, my mother remarked on this hurt knuckle several times. It really bothered her, especially because it was such an odd injury!
You know what I didn’t say to her? I didn’t tell her to shake it off. I didn’t tell her that it was just a little bump and she should stop talking about it. I didn’t ignore her talking about it — even when she had talked about it several times. I didn’t tell her it was no big deal. I didn’t tell her to grow up. I didn’t tell her to get over it.
Do you know why I didn’t say those things to her? I didn’t tell her those things because that’s not how we talk to adults. We don’t tell our peers how they feel, and whether or not they hurt.
But that isn’t how most people treat children. Common parenting advice is to just ignore the mishap, tell the child it doesn’t hurt, or tell the child to “Shake it off.”
At our house, we treat everyone with respect, without regard to their age. We really try to treat our interactions with our children the way we would treat interactions with anyone else. So, what we do is sympathize. We listen. We look at the injury and discuss it. We may offer advice to help it feel better. We offer hugs, kisses, or whatever else a child needs to help feel better. We use words like:
“Did you fall right down? Was it scary?”
“Did you bang your knee? Let’s take a look at it.”
“Did you knock your head? Does it need some ice?”
“You smashed your hand? Let’s see if it is bleeding.”
“You fell from the swing set and hurt your arm? Can you wiggle your fingers?”
The other side of that coin is that we do not make a giant fuss over the child at every scary moment. A tumble doesn’t mean an injury, nor even a perceived injury, every time. When our children fall, we give them a moment to tell us how they feel about it. If the child gets up, looks around, and goes off to play with something, we have no need to comment on it. If the child gets up, looks around confused, and looks at us to see what to do, we often say something like, “Kersplat!” and laugh. Usually, that will get the child laughing, too. If the child begins to cry, we follow the child’s lead for what is needed.
None of our three children are “wimps”, “drama queens”, or a “cry baby”. Not that we would call them these things even if they were. But, validating their feelings about their own bodies has actually empowered them more to be able to move on after an injury. They have learned for themselves how to inspect an injury to see if it requires help, sympathy, or just a moment of reflection. They have learned that they need to stay calm in an injury situation. They have learned that they don’t have to panic to get our attention. And they have learned that we have as much respect for their injuries as we have for anyone else’s.
Photo Credit: Momma Jorje