There are two types of children: the ones who fall down and cry, even when the fall wasn’t that bad, and the ones that fall down, get up, and keep playing like nothing happened. You might say that some children are predisposed towards one category or the other, and this may be true. However, I also had the privilege as a daycare teacher to see many parents’ responses to their children’s scrapes and bruises and I am convinced that the way adults respond to the child during their time of injury has a lot to do with the way that child begins to react.
Children look to us as adults to show us how they are supposed to behave and interact with their environment. I’m sure as a parent, you see all the time that children want to imitate you in everything you do. Similarly, children take their cues about how to respond to a situation based on the way they see you responding. If they see that you are afraid of something, it will make them afraid. If they see that something makes you happy, they will see it as a good thing.
I’ve often seen a child fall down, and look around towards nearby adults to determine what they are supposed to do. If no one is paying attention, or looking concerned, they will get up and continue playing. However, if someone rushes over with a worried look, the child assumes that they too should show alarm, and they begin to cry.
When children get hurt, many parents’ (especially mothers’) natural response is to fuss over it and kiss it better and dress it. That child will then reason that falling down and getting hurt is a big deal. It requires a disruption to play and a spectacle before it can be made “better”. And the more attention it gets them, the more they will continue to bring it up, even days after the initial event.
Every once in a while, though, there is that parent who purposefully refuses to make a scene when their child falls down. As a result, their children were often much more confident that when they scraped their knee, or bruised their shin, it wasn’t the end of play time. All they had to do was get back up and keep going. One mom had two sons, one of which was particularly prone to doing things that would get him hurt. She had determined that she was not going to raise children who were not afraid to try new things, or cry every time they got hurt. Every time one of her sons wiped out flat on the floor, she would excitedly yell “Home run!” and the child would get back up smiling and keep running.
Why is it important? First of all, most parents would agree that they want to raise happy, resilient children who are quicker to laugh than to cry. We can assist in creating that disposition by allowing them to see it in us. Secondly, there will probably be times when your child does seriously hurt themselves. When we stay calm and assure them that everything is alright, it cues the child to stay calm as well. I’ve held children, waiting for their parents to come pick them up to go to the ER because they needed stitches. By simply remaining calm and taking their mind off the boo boo, they were sitting and smiling completely composed when the parents arrived.
I don’t know about you, but I hope to raise children who are confident rather than fearful, happy rather than fussy, who get back up and keep going rather than letting a scraped knee get them down.