The way you handle injuries as a parent has a lasting effect on the child's perception of danger.
Bumps and bruises are a normal part of childhood. It means kids are active, having fun, and learning to handle their gangly, growing bodies. This is a tough stage for parents to witness, as we are hard-wired to protect these little people we've created. But, as Geoffrey Redick points out in a humorous article for LifeHacker Offspring, a parent's response has a significant effect on a child, which is why you need to teach them to stay calm and reasonable, despite your own inward panicking. Redick provides advice on how to act.
#1: Do not react.
It may take an awful lot of self-control not to show any emotion when your kid gets injured, but this is exactly what you must do. Until you've assessed the situation, there's no point in making it sound more serious than it is. That will only upset your child more and make them more fearful.
"Proceed with all deliberate speed to your fallen child, murmur calming phrases, and give them a hug. Hugs do so much. Your kid will instantly feel safer, relieved to be held in your embrace. And you’ll be looking over their shoulder, allowing you to relax your mask of indifference into a rictus of worry without him noticing."
#2: Be prepared.
A first-aid kit is always good to carry around whenever you venture far from home. Think of it as the older kid's version of a diaper bag. With bandages, antibiotic ointment, some gauze and medical tape, tweezers, a cold pack, chewable ibuprofen, hydrocortisone cream, and some disposable gloves, you'll be ready for any catastrophe.
What I'd add to the list is some form of distraction. As a mother to rough-and-tumble boys who are in a constant state of injury, it seems, having a piece of fruit, candy, or a book on hand to distract while tending to a wound helps immensely.
#3: Pay attention.
I was so happy to see Redick mention this. "Playground time is Facebook time," he writes with a touch of sarcasm; but if your face is glued to your phone, you'll miss the lead-up to the screaming child and the bloody knee. It will come as more of a shock, and instead of rushing over to deal with a situation you already understand, you'll be upsetting your kid further by repeating, "What happened? What happened?" Instead, pay attention. Be present for your kid and, therefore, better prepared when an injury happens.
I'm always amused when families with a single child, younger kid, or only girls come over to visit my bevy of boys. They are inevitably shocked by the level of chaos, the physicality of their play. They wrestle, whack, holler, and chase each other all day long -- while thoroughly enjoying it, of course. This has desensitized everyone in our family to the idea of injuries. The boys are proud of their Band-Aids; I no longer feel faint at the sight of blood. The key is to allow your kids to engage in risky, rough play. Redick writes:
"Take them roller skating. Go to a trampoline park. Set up a backyard obstacle course. Every once in a while, push them over (gently). I still do this... What you’re doing is teaching your kid what it feels like to fall, to land, to experience a little pain and then ignore it. To get up, brush themselves off, and rejoin the game."
Teaching a child how to cope calmly and reasonably with their own bumps and bruises gives them tools for coping later in life. It builds that resilience every parent is striving for. So, next time, don't freak out. Take a deep breath, grab your tools, and march over to your bleeding kid as if it's just another day in the parenting trenches -- which it is. Then listen to this old song, from one of my family's favorite kid entertainers, to put it into perspective:
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