22:33, Sep 25 2012

A valuable parental skill is the ability to quickly determine the severity of an accident. It comes in particularly useful once they're in the toddler years and careening and careering into everything.  

A bang, a thump, a pause for in-drawn breath - will it be a yell, a cry, or a scream?  Differences in pitch, tone and volume give a general indication, but there are subtleties of expression and body language, too.

I find the best way to confirm the severity of the incident is to acknowledge what happened, and gently attempt to distract the child. If they're easily distracted (and stop crying) it's not that bad. If they're hysterical, dribbling scream-monsters, they're really hurt.  Or possibly over-tired and a teensy bit hurt. Or a Scorpio*.

I try to remember that injuries aren't always physical. Injured pride has a special sting all of its own.  

With three adventurous kids, I've had plenty of experience dealing with the everyday tumbles and falls. Here are some of the approaches I've tried to defuse a tearful, but not really injured, child:

"You're okay, it doesn't hurt!"


I've said this, but I don't like it.  I feel that I can't make the judgment call on whether it hurts them or not. It's their body. And how would you feel if someone told you that what you were feeling was wrong?

"Oh no!  We'll have to cut it off!"

Success depends totally on your audience. This strategy works well for my impish daughter, but has catastrophically failed when applied to my very literal son. He turned the tears up to eleventy-one.

"Kiss it better?"

Again, depends entirely on the audience.

"Wow, that was a big one!"

Sometimes the pride in realising they survived a really spectacular pratfall will dilute the shock. I find this is more effective with children verbal enough to describe what happened (with suitable exaggeration, of course).

"Hey, look, a red herring!"

Generally used in desperation.

"My goodness! Are you okay?"

This is the most reliable approach with my kids. It's all about the tone of voice; if I rush over sounding concerned, they'll respond to that concern. If it's a matter-of-fact question, it's often almost as though they pause, ask themselves the question and get "actually, I am" as the answer. 

But if all else fails, there's always the magic of Band-Aids.


How do you deal with the everyday bumps and bruises, and the resulting tears? What works best for your kids?

* That's a family joke. My mum and my sister are both red-headed Scorpios. My eldest son is also a Scorpio and shares a, um, flair for the dramatic.