Question:

My son, I just love him so much, I think he should consider an acting career. I am trying to find ways for him to calm down after he gets hurt (parenting an out of control child). Tonight he stepped on a splinter and I had to pull it out. I realize that it probably did hurt badly. I don't mind if he cries, yells, whatever. But he just seems to enter into some kind of crazy hysterics whenever something like this happens! A lot of times he gets unreasonable, totally out of control. I try soothing talk, acknowledging his pain, and sympathizing. Maybe I go overboard? I try to get him to take deep breaths but he just cries "I can't I can't!" Do you think it'd work better if he practiced this just during a *normal* time? What can I do to help him stay calm, or help him calm down when he is hurting?

Answer:

In terms of parenting an out of control child and parental response to kids in general, there are basically 3 approaches:

  1. Parent as drill sergeant (too strict)
  2. Parent as rescue pilot (too permissive)
  3. Parent as consultant (balanced)

The drill sergeant parent will look at a (not seriously) hurt child and respond with,"It's not that bad,Don't cry, Don't be a baby, just take care of it, big boys don't cry, suck it up", etc. This parent will not be physically or emotionally available to the child. The child will typically misinterpret this parental response with ideas such as, "I need to hide my feelings" or "My parent doesn't care" or "When I'm hurt I need to keep it to myself, or not seek help" or possibly "If I get louder and more obnoxious, maybe they'll see me". When parents respond to with this style over time, children develop mistaken beliefs like, "I can't show my feelings", "I have to take care of myself, do it alone", "There's no one there for me but me" etc. As adults, these are the people who don't seek out a doctor until they're half-dead, or hide their feelings from people, or have an attitude that "I have to look out for #1 (me) because no one else will".

The parent as rescue pilot responds dramatically, "Oh my God! Let me see! Oh, you poor baby! Mommy will make it all better! Here let me kiss it for you and make it all better, You want some ice cream? Shhh. it's OK, it won't hurt anymore!" Typically, kids eat-up this response. They respond with even more drama, loving every minute of all this love and attention. Kids who weren't even hurt that bad become sobbing, helpless and needy, basking in all your love and attention. These children develop beliefs such as "It pays to get hurt, I can get lots of love and attention this way", "Even if it's not that bad, if I play it up I might get a treat", "When I get hurt, someone else will make it better for me" or "I don't know how to take care of myself, other people are there for that". As adults these people tend to be accident prone, needy and hypochondriacs.

The parent as consultant brings a balanced response to the situation, "OW! That looks like it hurts!" wait for the child's response, they will tell you the degree of hurt involved, either, "Aw, it's not that bad" or "Yeah! It really stings!" Either way, they feel you care. Then the consultant says, "What do you think I would do if I fell down and scraped up my knee like that?" or "What do you think you need to do to fix it or make it feel better?" the child typically looks upward, searching their brain, THINKING! Thinking is a good thing for kids to do, and as consultants, we teach them how to think out solutions. If they are really hurt bad, we might need to make suggestions, if not you can follow their lead and make sure they remember all that needs to be done. If she says, "Put a Band-Aid on it?" you can say, "Yes great! And it looks like there is some dirt, what else do you need?" she says, "A towel to wash it off?" you say, "Great idea! And what can you put on it so it doesn't get infected?" she says, "Spray that stuff on it?" you say, "Great! How about if I go get the stuff and help you fix it up?" This child comes to believe things like, "When I get hurt, people care about my feelings" and "When I get hurt, I can figure out what needs to be done", "I am loved and capable of taking care of myself", feeling loveable AND capable is one essence of self-esteem.

Good Luck! Deb

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