Dear Mangrove Families,
Last year, my four-year-old daughter had an unexpected five-day stay in the hospital, where she was connected to an IV, receiving antibiotics and Tylenol, giving blood for testing, and just generally being poked at. This year, she had a planned invasive surgery with anesthesia and an unknown amount of recovery time. Although I wrote the following last year, I find it important to share again because the content may be helpful to your family by providing insight on what we can do as parents to help our children navigate situations when they are hurt or sick.
What can make your heart drop to your stomach quicker than your child getting hurt?
Your heart races, your adrenaline is pumping, your breathing gets heavy and fast, and your thoughts veer to the worst-case scenario. Our No. 1 job is to protect them, and when that falls apart and they get sick or injured, we freak out. Our heart is pounding because our tiny humans ARE our hearts.
Now, I want you to try to step out of your body and into the body of a tiny human in this big world. Tiny humans have a job, too. Their No. 1 job is to figure out the world around them by taking in all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences. As they receive each piece of information about the world, their brains sort and categorize in order to make sense of the constant flow of input, and tiny humans look toward the people who love them the most as a reference point for all new information. They depend on adults setting routines, schedules, boundaries, and expectations in order to find a sense of safety and security as the world reveals itself to them on a daily basis.
Let me paint this picture…
The tiny humans are in their tiny bodies, learning all this great stuff, loving life, and just as accidents, injuries, and sickness often do … boom, in a split second, out of nowhere, everything gets flipped upside down. It wasn’t on the schedule, it wasn’t how that day was planned, their tiny body hurts, and they don’t know what is going on, so they look toward the people who take care of them. They look to their reference point. They look to YOU in order to figure out how to respond to this unexpected (and, therefore, scary) situation. If the tiny humans see their parents freaking out, screaming and crying, pacing and frantic, scared and overwhelmed, then they are naturally going to join them in a downward spiral of fear.
“But Liz,” you say, “It is my baby! How am I supposed to not freak out when my baby is hurt or sick?”
I unequivocally understand. But I also know that you would do anything for them, right? Body in front of a train kind of anything.
This is the train. You need to put your body in front of it by making the conscious effort to be the still, deep calm that your child needs you to be.
Please don’t think that I am saying your feelings aren’t valid. In fact, whatever you feel, your child will feel those same feelings on an even more exaggerated and intense level. You have had a lifetime to learn all you know, but your tiny humans are venturing into the unknown, and the unknown is naturally scary. I am proposing that you keep this knowledge in the forefront of your mind in situations when your child:
Falls off the slide
Scrapes their knee
Needs a shot
Breaks an arm
Is admitted to the hospital
Model calm in front of your child in order to help them stay calm and feel safe.
Breathe to remain calm.
Take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your nose. When you breath in your nose and out your mouth, your body moves to fight-or-flight survival mode. And although the adrenaline pumping heightens your senses, you need to be the duck on the lake. Even if everything inside of you is paddling feverishly, everyone’s outside perception of you, especially your child’s, needs to be that of a duck gliding on the surface of the water. When you breathe in through your nose and out through your nose, the oxygen has a calming effect and helps to create relaxation. Your children need to see that the people they rely on who love and protect them are calm so that it can help bring them back to calm.
Be the voice that validates, honors, and informs the experience.
As the adults in their lives, we are constantly sportscasting what is going on in order for them to be informed and make sense of the things that are happening around them. It is no different in times of stress and uncertainty. State what happened. Validate the feelings they are expressing. Explain in a developmentally appropriate way what is around them, what happened, and what will happen ≈. Our children deserve honest information delivered to them in a respectful way that also validates their experience.
Show them your unconditional love.
A hug is a powerful tool that can really meet some deep needs of comfort and security. You are your child’s person —the person they can scream at, vomit on, cry with, and hold, and you love them through all of it. They know it and they need it. So ask your child when it gets hard and ugly and they look like they may be losing all control, “Do you need a hug?” The pressure of your arms around them allows them to sink back into safety. We represent those huge feelings for them— love and safety — and in times of need and unpredictability, they need to feel those things more frequently.
Although this may feel like the Cliff Notes version of “How to Help your Child in a Scary Situation,” if you keep those tools in mind, it will make a world of difference to your child. I am not an expert, but my family has no been around the block with EVERY scenario mentioned above, and I thank all my stars that I had this Montessori knowledge in my pocket for all of it. We can’t take the pain away from them, but we can do our best to make this experience less scary, less stressful, and less overwhelming for our tiny humans.
If you ever need more resources, have questions, or need to talk, I am available. We are all part of this Mangrove family and the toddler team is your back-up support, ready to help, if we can.
Wishing you health and always sending love,
Ms. Liz and Ms. Yudis