Posted: Aug 07, 2013 6:00 AM
 
Boo-boos are my daughter's lot in life — each of them followed by a lengthy outpouring of emotion. Usually encouraging her to calm down quickly, I realized after a particularly emotional bruise of my own that maybe we need as much time as it takes to move on.

One of the very first things I bought when I was pregnant with my first child was a Boo-boo Bunny — a cute plush rabbit that disguises an ice pack that fits inside of it and a creative way to distract kids from bumps and bruises. Perhaps it was an odd thing to buy so early, but I saw it in a gift shop and with the protective "momness" I had suddenly acquired with pregnancy, I felt compelled to buy it.

Maybe it was an omen that I bought that stinking bunny because seven years later, boo-boos are our lot in life. Skinned knees, pinched fingers, bumped heads, stubbed toes — they rank "extremely high" on the Things That Send Us Over the Edge in our house. Prefacing my daughter's traits with the predominant smart, kind, nurturing and problem-solving, I'll add that dramatic is in there too — at least when she's been hurt. We're talking 30 minutes of tearful, expressive bemoaning. We're talking Nancy Kerrigan, down-to-the-ground "Whyyyyyyy?!?" Over the sight of a spot of blood on a hangnail. Or ketchup mistaken as blood.

I have tried every response in the book beginning always with validating her pain — a hug, a Band-Aid, an "I'm so sorry." I've tried humor, like my dad used to do with our complaints: "Oh, your leg is hurting? Well goshdarnit, go get my saw and we'll just cut it off." I usually get a stifled giggle with that one, followed by louder crying to make up for the two-second lapse she wasted while she laughed. I've tried the Most Attentive Nurse approach, attending to the boo-boo with ice and kisses and lots of Hello Kitty Band-Aids. I've tried ignoring her cries after initially validating them. I've tried distracting with books and art supplies or a cool iPad game. I've tried dancing. I've tried juggling. I've tried pulling out the Fisher Price doctor kit. I've tried sternly telling her, "Enough is enough. I'm sorry you got hurt, but you need to stop crying now." As if a parent saying "stop crying" ever worked on a kid. Although I'm not exactly proud of it, I've also tried, "Okay, if it hurts that bad, we should probably go to the hospital and they might give you 10 shots." And you know what? That one worked, but I don't love the feeling I get from making empty threats or making that eventual trip to the hospital more frightening. For the most part, it doesn't matter how I react — the crying goes on and on and on until she stops from exhaustion — or fear of getting 10 shots.

I keep trying all these approaches to make my daughter's dramatic reactions to getting hurt stop, but maybe I'm trying in vain.

If every child is emotionally different, is there such a thing as a standard for 'too much' when it comes to reactions to pain? Should we limit our child's responses to an owie?

If every child is emotionally different, is there such a thing as a standard for "too much" when it comes to reactions to pain? Should we limit our child's responses to an owie?

It's funny how an "aha" moment recently came to me regarding this. Just a couple of weeks ago, I experienced a miscommunication with someone, and I was hurt by the way they responded. It bugged me all day, so much that I vented to my husband maybe more than most would consider appropriate. By the evening, when I was still going on about how badly I felt, my husband turned around and said, "Babe, seriously. You're letting this bother you way too much. Just drop it and move on, and you'll feel so much better."

To which I replied, "Don't you think if I knew where the off button was, I'd push it? I don't want to think about this any more than you want me to talk about it. I promise I'll be fine in a little bit, but I have to talk this out until I feel better." And right there, you have it.

Sure, my boo-boo wasn't a visibly skinned knee, but still. My little apple rolls right next to the tree she fell from. She'll figure out soon that there are drawbacks to dramatic reactions to hurts, but maybe she needs to vent as much as she feels appropriate until she's ready to move on. Maybe she's looking for an off button too but can't seem to find it.

So, here's the new plan for both of us:

Take as much time as you need. Cry it out, be dramatic, take it to the moon if you'd like. But don't take those around you down with you. Make it known that you're hurt, accept a little love. If you decide you're going to go beyond that, go find a quiet room and shut the door. Come out when you're ready. I think eventually we'll both learn that life is here waiting for us — we'll enjoy it a lot more if we move on quickly.

In the meantime, there's always a Boo-boo Bunny in the freezer.

More on children and empathy

Raising considerate kids of all ages
How to deal with kids who test limits
Attachment parenting cheat sheet

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