Kids fall down a lot, and they hurt themselves a lot. It’s a feature, not a bug. You gotta crawl before you can walk, you gotta walk before you can run, and you gotta trip over your clumsy feet 5000 times before your brain can figure out how to operate your limbs.
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Learning the physical realities of a human’s relationship to gravity is a painful process, both for the person living through it and for the person who is supposed to keep that person from accidentally killing themselves. When you’re a caregiver, every day of toddlerhood is a cringe-fest. You feel like an extra in M.A.S.H. Even through primary school, your days will be punctuated by spikes of adrenaline-fuelled medical triage.
There’s no way to avoid it, but these tips will make things easier for you and your child.
This is the big one. Start here. If you don’t learn to keep quiet your kids will carry the sound of your distress in their memories forever. I can still hear my mother shrieking in terror whenever she saw me or my brother jump out of a tree or roll off the twisty slide or ride our bikes too fast down the hill. She was shrieking in anticipation, and like Wile E. Coyote looking down at thin air, it was only when we heard her that we realised the danger. And promptly stacked it.
When your kid skins his knee on the asphalt and cries out, they will know in the first instant they see your face whether they should be scared. Don’t smile and yell that everything’s going to be OK. That rings false to everyone, even little kids. Instead, let your features be a mask of indifference. Your heart may flutter, your armpits may rain sweat, but anyone who looks at your face should mistake you for Lurch from The Addams Family.
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.
Part of your anxiety about injuries no doubt comes from the fear that you won’t be able to help. If you’re prepared, you’ll be calmer. I’ve treated scrapes, bruises, insect bites, splinters, goose eggs and broken fingers. All of those hurt less after a bowl of ice cream. But you can’t carry ice cream everywhere! You can carry a first aid kit, though.
The prepackaged ones are useless, apart from the plastic box they come in. Buy one of those, empty it out, and fill it with antibiotic ointment, a handful of Band-Aids, a few squares of gauze, medical tape, tweezers, a bottle of chewable ibuprofen, an instant-cold pack, hydrocortisone cream, and a couple of disposable gloves. Pop that sucker in your backpack (you aren’t using a nappy bag, are you?) and bring it with you every time you leave the house. Even if you’re just taking a walk around the block! Any time you don’t have your first aid kit, your kid will go full Evel Knievel.
Consider signing up for a first aid class. Spend a little more and take a CPR class, too. It’s unlikely that you’ll need to call on those skills, but if tragedy does strike, you’ll be Johnny-on-the-spot.
Look, playground time is Facebook time. I get it. You have a few moments to yourself, and your scrolling finger is itching to make its way through your timeline. Do not do this – or, at least don’t do it for very long.
If you’re actually watching your kid, then the moment they fall down won’t be a surprise. You won’t be panicked by a scream because you’ll have watched them stumble in the wood chips. You’ll know their hysterics are only for the sake of drama.
If it’s a bigger boo-boo – a headfirst jump into the monkey bars – you won’t have to ask your stunned child what happened. You’ll just grab the cold pack from your first aid kit and take deep, calming breaths while you check for signs of a concussion.
Finally, if you’re watching, then you’re witnessing. What I mean is, if you witness the big kid in the green shirt push Junior off the merry-go-round, you can head over there and give Big Greenie a lecture (or march them over to his caregivers and lecture them).
This tip is for parent and child alike. Wiping out is frightening, and fear makes the pain worse. But if you get used to wiping out – experiencing it over and over again – then it isn’t so scary. (The lie to this truism is my eternally shrieking mother, but she was exceptionally stubborn.) You should arrange for your child to child fall down. A lot.
Let me be clear: Do not abuse your kid. Do not throw them off the roof or off a cliff or out of a car. But 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. The other evening, we were on a neighbourhood walk, and I nudged my daughter into a row of bushes. She yelped in surprise, then laughed because it was hilarious. Her little brother got so tickled he could barely talk.
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. There’s a lot of falling down in childhood, and even if you’re vigilant, you won’t be there every time. Sooner or later, your kid will fall when you aren’t around. If they shrug it off, carry on, and display their war wound at the dinner table, you’ll have done your job well.