October 3, 2013

Tricks shouldn't be for kids

One of my issues with current parenting/child interactions is how much people think tricking children is a good idea. It's more pervasive than I realized before I had kids.

For example, every time my kids have gotten shots, I've been uncomfortable with the approach the nurses insist on. The method always involves trapping the children so you can sort of unexpectedly jab them with needles. Some nurses are pretty good about explaining the process, especially to older kids who have gotten better with conversation. I appreciate that. And when they are babies, there is really nothing else you can do but keep their limbs still so they don't hurt themselves more by thrashing.

What I have trouble with are these two things:

One, the way toddlers/preschoolers are positioned. The nurse wants the child laying down with legs over the edge of the table, mom holding the top half of the child pinned to the table with arms up (sometimes over the child's head) and the nurse holding the legs and quickly giving the shot. I can't think of a more vulnerable and scary thing for a kid. I just think of how much I'd hate it to be put in that position so someone could do something so painful to me. Plus, I don't think it helps kids in the long run to learn to deal with difficult situations if they have no choice in how they position themselves.

For S's shots yesterday, I gently laid on top of his upper body, like a hug, and gave him kisses, praise and tried to prepare him for the two pricks. But I always feel like there has to be a better way to do that!

Two, for older kids they do not want the child to look at the shot being given, and want their arms/hands restricted as well.

My approach to parenting is to try to prepare my kids and help them try to work through tough/painful things with more autonomy (when the situation could allow it). For K's shots yesterday, I spent a good deal of time explaining what would happen before we got there (he doesn't remember his last shots a couple of years ago) and explaining different ways he could deal with it. My personal approach for years now with painful medical procedures is to think through what is going to happen (instead of vaguely worrying about it) and to pay attention the whole time to what is happening so I'm not surprised by it. I told K that he could choose to watch the shots being administered so that he would always know what was coming and when it would be over. The nurse tried very hard to make him look away when giving the shot, but I made no effort to stop him. I hugged his arms to his sides and held his hands to minimize any involuntary or fear movement, but tried to let him help keep control of himself.

I think we usually short change kids when we as parents/leaders overreact on their behalf and don't allow them to figure out a way to deal with the inevitable. Shots and pain are part of life. Pretending it won't come or downplaying it to the point of lying does not do any long term good. I've been given many a dirty look when nurses hear me tell my kids that it is going to hurt, but it won't last long. But to me that seems so much kinder than saying it won't hurt at all. And, frankly, I feel it undermines trust in authority in the long run.

And because of my honestly, I feel that each time my boys encounter a potentially scary or painful situation, they get a little better with dealing with it. Neither of my kids ever cries very long or has a major overreaction to shots or other things like that. They aren't perfect or indifferent, but it's so much better than what I've seen from kids who's parents over dramatize the whole thing and then make the kid more scared or feel they have to keep up a big reaction. My approach might not work for all kids or parents, but I think using it from the beginning, as way of life, does help in the long run.

We can trust our children far more than most people believe. Of course we want to shield them, but too much shelter causes different kinds of fears and problems.

Part two of my views on honesty for kids to come. Be forewarned, it's not popular and I'm pretty sure some people think we're totally crazy for it.