In an emergency, I urge all parents to follow my lead: rid yourself of any sense of yourself. Become a robot. Follow only a logical path. Keep your emotions at a distance. Be confident and calm.
This may seem difficult or against your better judgment, but I believe that it is not only what’s required, but what your child wants and needs. In a tough spot, a child wants to see their parent fully in command and completely at ease with whatever the circumstance. They may appreciate sweetness and empathy, but only after they see that they’re not going to die.
Take, for example, my son’s recent kitchen injury. He was taking the plates out of the dishwasher and putting them away. One of the plates slipped, and as he attempted to catch it before it fell to the floor, the plate hit the counter-top and shattered. One of the pieces neatly sliced the skin in the webbing between his first and second fingers.
I was in the other room, but the accident was in my line of sight and I witnessed the entire affair unfold. I paused after the crash and watched my son, as he’s now seventeen and capable of dealing with certain injuries on his own. So I waited to see how bad it was. At first he seemed ok. I asked how he was doing and he said he was fine, although he cut his hand and it stung a bit. I asked him to take a look at it, and just then, a small rivulet of blood dripped down his hand.
Allow me to pause for a moment. The blood is where I had to stop and collect myself, to gather my emotional forces and stand cool. I didn’t want to, no ma’am, no sir. There was a fair amount of blood and I wanted to yell, to run to him and swaddle him and wrap his hand in a giant towel and maybe use my belt as a tourniquet. Panic was clearly an option. But I knew that what was needed was confidence and a decisive, controlled response.
So I exhaled slowly, inhaled, then said to him: “Ok, so do me a favor, ok? Raise your hand above your heart. You ok with doin’ that for me?” He did, and that bought me some time to think as I made my way into the kitchen so I could better assess the wound. “Let me see, ok?” He slowly brought his hand down to eye level and rotated it so that the cut was in full view. I said, “Looks fine, it’s tiny and it’s not gushing blood or anything. Probably hurts a bit, and there’s nothing I can do for that right away. See, first, we need to stop the bleeding. Then we’ll clean it and then work on taking the sting away. Ok?” He nodded. I said, “Great. Ok, let’s get a paper towel and put some pressure on it and see what happens.”
After a few minutes of pressure, with the hand above his heart, we examined the laceration and saints be praised, the bleeding stopped. Next I took some hydrogen peroxide, cleaned the wound, then put on a drop of NuSkin over the cut, as it was no place for a regular Band-Aid. After the NuSkin dried, I loosely taped his fingers together (to give the wound stability to knit) and sent him on his way.
Then I walked into our bathroom, sat on the edge of the tub, and hyperventilated for a few minutes.
My point here is that injuries to our kids are commonplace and crazy-scary. The best thing we can do is let go of ourselves and become efficient machines. Only positive statements, no equivocations, no expressions of worry or doubt. It’s fine to say “I’m not sure,” but only if the only other option is to lie. Never lie to a kid about an injury. They’ll end up finding out the truth in the end and that kind of damage to your trusted relationship can take months to heal. Better to be candid, while maintaining an air of confidence, almost to the point of aloofness. Make it clear that you’ve seen a ton of these, or that you’ve read all about these things, or that you’ve watched so many episodes of E.R. that you’re almost a doctor yourself. Give them strong leadership and strong presence and their injury won’t become a traumatic event.
And after it’s over, you can always pour yourself a nice glass of wine. I recommend a nice Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay ’06. Remember, never drink red wine after a blood incident, it’s just not a good idea.
by Stu Mark
Photo graciously provided by Seattle Municipal Archives, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved