It’s starting to be that time of year again. The weather is getting cooler. The long hours to play outside in the warm sunlight have faded. Leaves have started changing all of those glorious colors. Ahhhh, we welcome the brisk and beautiful season of autumn.
It’s also the beginning of the chaotic time of year when kids, much like those multi-colored leaves, fall. Yep. They decide to run and run and run around the house. Whoops. Then they hit the ground, knocking into coffee tables, door hinges or each other on the way down. Kids can and do fall a million times a year, right? However, it only takes that one unfortunate collision. The perfectly mistimed instance of tripping into a coffee table or a brother’s head, knocking his safety goggles into an eyebrow that results in a laceration. Yes, that’s happened in our house.
Oh, the pain. The horror. The blood.
You’ve got to be prepared. Because yes, your child might need stitches. Don’t freak out. I know when someone says “don’t freak out” in regards to anything, specifically your child’s well-being, that you automatically want to freak out.
Trust me. It’s going to be OK. Your child has the opportunity to apply effective coping techniques, feel empowered and even grow from an unexpected, difficult experience.
I’ve offered support and encouragement during my own son’s laceration repairs. Multiple times. Because well, twin boys happen. I’ve also provided preparation, distraction and support for hundreds of other kids’ laceration repairs, working in the emergency department as a Certified Child Life Specialist for eight years.
I know kid’s lacerations. The chins. The eyebrows. Hands, arms, legs and every other unfortunate injury. I have witnessed first hand the efficacy and importance of a calm, supportive and trustworthy caregiver throughout the hospitalization.
If your child’s future shenanigans happen to result in the need for medical attention in the form of stitches or a laceration repair, here are some helpful steps to remember.
Step 1: Stay calm. I know, it’s hard. Extremely hard. Namaste. Your child is reading your facial expression, body language, etc. Quick! You need to grab some random rag, towel, etc. preferably not your most precious one. You need to apply pressure, especially if it’s the head, it loves to bleed a lot. OK, good. Now, breathe in and then breathe out. Have your child breathe along with you. Bleeding means that your child’s body works well in emergent situations.
Step 2: If the bleeding doesn’t seem to want to stop, even though you are staying calm and doing your best to apply pressure, you’re going to want to hop in the car and head to your nearest pediatric emergency department. Grab pacifiers, lovies, favorite teddy bears, if possible. You may be asking: “Why? Why shouldn’t I just go to that adult hospital near me?” Pediatric hospitals have nurses, doctors, child life specialists and every other discipline available that only works with children. They specialize in treating, medicating and taking care of kids. They have child-friendly colors, artwork, play materials and medical equipment. A pediatric hospital understands how to effectively work with children and they know to include parents and siblings, too.
Step 3: Don’t feed your child a steak dinner or a blue raspberry slurpee on the way to the hospital. Or a lollipop. Or gum. It may sound crazy, but you might want to promise these things later. After your child gets stitches. Just in case your child needs sedation medicine, you want to hold off on putting anything in his stomach.
Step 4: On the way to the hospital, tell your child the truth, even though it’s difficult. Don’t say you are going to Disney World or the park or any other place. Your child needs to be able to trust you. Typical kid reactions include, “Will it hurt?” “What are they going to do?” “Am I going to die?” And “I’m scared.” Reassure him or her that you’re going to be there and stay with your child. Let your child know, if developmentally appropriate, that there will be nurses and doctors that will help fix his or her injury. It’s important for your child to understand that this is her or his body so she or he will be given explanations and understand how it will be fixed and what his or her job will be i.e. holding still, taking deep breaths, choosing and engaging in distraction materials, etc.
Step 5: Think back to the times when your sweet baby would smile at you and you would smile back. Or do you remember when your newly walking baby fell down and looked up at you for your reaction? During your child’s medical procedure, when you can remain calm, encouraging and positive, your child will usually respond and react accordingly to your facial expressions, body language and overall energy. This may take repeating encouraging and empowering phrases like: “It’s OK to cry.” “I’m here.” “You can do this.” “You’ve done hard things before.” “I believe in you.” “I know this is hard. I’m so proud of you.” It’s also perfectly normal if you need to step out of the room to walk, breathe or have a come-apart. (It’s extremely difficult for children under three years old to understand why you are not rescuing them from these strange hospital people. It’s painful to helplessly watch your little one being upset and not understanding what’s going on)
Step 6: You guys did it! You survived an unexpected trip to the emergency department. Celebrate with chocolate, ice cream, wine or whatever reward you desire. You deserve it!