Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spilt Milk and Other Bumps

We were at the Children's Museum today. It's midweek, nothing really going on, and it was later in the day so there were not many people there. But there were two things that really struck me today. My kids are 2 1/2 and 11 months respectively boy, girl. There was a smallish boy there, by his walk and vocabulary I'm guessing a small 2year old rather than a larger 18month old. Anyway he fell backwards, not hard, and on a cushioned floor. Bonked his head a bit but, realistically, it couldn't have been more than a brief 'ugh'. But he started crying like he'd been dropped on brick and his mother rushes over and scoops him up, holding him tight, rocking him, soothing him, and he kept right on with this pitiful cry until his mom actually left the play area to calm him down.
My daughter took a face first header on a slope a bit too steep for her to navigate without holding onto something (she let go of the side when an older kid approached), unfortunately she missed the softly padded floor and bonked her head into the unpadded wooden side wall. She picked her head up and started to whimper. I said 'oh! Big bonk!' In an uptoned voice. She thought about it for a moment but decided it really did hurt (big red mark with a little scrape) and started crying about the same time I swung her up. I gave her a kiss on her owie (a-boo in our toddler's lingo) while briefly snuggling her close then tossed her up saying 'bonk, bonk, bonk!' I jiggled her, held her up high, and bounced her while I grinned at her. Took about fifteen seconds then she was giggling and squirming. I gave her another kiss, told her she was okay, and set her back down to play.

Why, oh why do parents teach their kids that every little bump and bruise is a world-ending injury? I've been in the doctor's office and heard 5 year olds shrieking in agony after getting their shots for 10 minutes. My kids give a cry or two until I pick them up and give the nurse a 'why did you do THAT' look as they bury their head in my chest..then they sniff and usually reach out to be held by the nurse. Who always comments on how well my kids do.
It's likely kids are more sensitive to pain than the average adult, through lack of exposure if nothing else, but it's not like that poke, bump, or fall is ACTUALLY as painful as the bone-shattering screaming some kids carry on with. They carry on so because they have been taught by neurotic adults that it's worth that kind of attention.
"Ahh! My baby!" Cries the distraught mother as she rushes desperately towards the 3 year old who just tripped and bloodied a knee. Come on, we've all bloodied a knee! It's worth a grunt and a disgusted look, maybe a grimace or a wince with the next few steps. So why do so many parents think it's proper for their child to weep inconsolably for minutes at a time?
And don't tell me it's the kids! I had a nanny job once with a sweet little 2 year old. First day she fell, not even a mark, and she was wailing while her mother scooped her up and 'oh my poor baby'ed her for several long minutes. She tried the same thing with me later that day. I asked 'you okay?', dusted her off, said 'yep, it's okay' and kept walking. She looked at me like 'wow, really?' Stopped crying and caught back up. It took a couple of days, then she happened to fall again in front of her mother. Her mother started over, anguished look on her face. Her daughter bounced up, proclaimed 'it's okay' and was off, leaving the mom with a confused look on her face.
Children mimic, they are developing, not just physically but mentally, emotionally, and socially. They have no idea how they are supposed to act; they look to their caregivers and read the social cues we provide to determine what is the proper emotional response to something. Sure, as they develop mentally they may vary from your example because their fledgling personality is different than yours, but that's just a wonderful sign that they are on the proper road to independence, and as long as you both guide properly and foster their independence they rarely seem to go off the deep end. But you know what I see? Those same kids who learned 'oh the world is ending!' Anytime something minor happens almost never stray from that, they become 5 and 6 year olds, and even 8 and 9 year olds who still can't deal with the slightest thing that happens. I could still tell in high school which kids had parents who thought a skinned knee was a disaster verses the kids whose parents taught them to pick themselves up and dust themselves off. Because it's not just physical wounds they learn to apply that mentality, it's their ability to deal with the skins and scrapes of the emotions that really get hurt by the mentality.
So please people, next time you see your, or my, kids take a tumble, give em a grin and say 'big bonk! You're okay!' And then expect them to be. Because no one is doing the next generation any good by teaching them to cry over spilt milk.


Blogger Mrs. Wilson said...

Maybe in the other case where the little boy feel down that there was more to the story and that is why he cried as much as he did. I could have been close to nap time for him or he could have been on the verge of a meld down.

I am guilty at times of babying my kids a little much when they fall down, my husband on the other hand is very straight forward with, "Is there blood? No, you are okay"

2:22 PM  
Blogger Jespren said...

Well yes, this specific instance could have been unusual for the kid, or the kid could have been handicapped or brain damaged, or maybe he had just legitimately hit that exact same spot on something else moments before he came into the room. There can always be a good excuse why a kid has *A* meltdown that the parent's incourage, but come on, I think I made it pretty obvious in the blog I was talking about parents who do this all the time for no good reason....and I've said the exact same thing as your husband on multiple occassions :)

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Tracy said...

I do totally agree with the gist of this, but see it as different than stopping a child crying. Maddy will fall, we do the "Wow - bonk" or something like that and most of the time she gets up on her way, but sometimes she thinks and realizes it hurts and starts crying. I don't stop that, even if *I* think the crying seems beyond what should hurt. (And sometimes I notice later she got her far more than I though - seeing the bump or bruise that emerges.) So I think the distinction you've rightly made is when parents *encourage* the behaviour versus when trying to stop a natural expression of emotion. Make sense?

2:24 PM  

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