A few days ago my daughter fell down hard on her knees outside our apartment. Afterwards she walked a few steps, and then was crying so much that I picked her up and carried her home. She kept crying for a long time, and then after that she didn’t want to walk. I wanted to take her leggings off to spray some antiseptic on them and it took a long, long time and lots of staylistening for her to feel comfortable for me to even do this.
It didn’t occur to me that anything was broken. Although the crying was initially about the pain, it also seemed to be emotional, about the shock of what happened and the fear of seeing blood.
When the next day she still didn’t want to walk I put her in her buggy and took her to the doctor. When the doctor started touching her legs, she screamed and started crying and crying. I listened to her, and tried to explain that the doctor needed to look at her legs. She kept crying and crying, holding out her arms to me.
I tried to explain to the doctor, that she ‘just need some time.’ I knew that if she had time to express her fear, she would then feel okay about being examined. The doctor immediately snapped back, ”I don’t have time, I’ve got patients to see.”
This was why I hadn’t immediately rushed out to the doctor’s the day before. Doctor’s don’t have time. They are busy, hardworking people, and the average GP (general doctor in British English) doesn’t have the time to consider feelings as part of their patient care.
However, I think this is a mistake. Crying is an important part of our physical health. Dr. Deanna Minich says, ‘crying is a form of detox in which we let go of our stored emotions and inner pain. It also literally eliminates inflammatory compounds, cytokines and chemokines. People who cry easily in response to emotion might even have fewer symptoms and better health than those who restrain their tears.’
The doctor was thinking about the physical well-being of my daughter but what he didn’t understand was that her crying was part of her body’s natural healing ability. If we interrupted her crying we were actually interrupting the healing work she needed as part of her recovery process.
I wanted to be my daughter’s advocate, I wanted to be able to let her cry for as long as she needed without anyone distracting her or trying to fix, and without anyone forcibly removing her leggings and examining her before she was ready. However I also knew that unfortunately most people don’t have time to listen to children.
Luckily the doctor decided that since she was crying so much we were better off going to the children’s hospital. On the way my daughter was able to cry some more, while I reassured her. By the time we got there she was calm. We had a wonderful doctor who used humour and connection with my daughter. He talked to her and asked her questions rather than me and my husband. The respect he gave her helped her to feel safe. She didn’t cry at all as he pressed the different parts of her legs to check them.
There were no broken bones, and she simply needed to rest until the swelling went down.
The next day she had much more movement in her legs. At one point we had to go out, and she got very agitated about her blanket not being in the right position on her buggy. I sensed she had some more feelings under the surface, so I set a limit with her and I told her I would help to fix it. She cried, and as she cried, and kicked and moved her legs much more than she had the day before. She told me, ”I’m never going to get back to normal.”
I was glad I noticed this ‘broken cookie’ moment and realised that the upset went much deeper than the position of her blanket. I was able to reassure her that she was healing, and already doing much better. At one point she ran across the room in anger, cried some more and then asked me to come and hug her. It was amazing to watch this natural healing process in action, and how expressing her feelings, helped her feel more confident and find the movement again in her legs.
This is why the greatest gift we can give our children is to find the time to listen to their tears. Doctor’s don’t have the time, with packed schedules and many patients to see. Teachers rarely have the time, with the needs of 20 or 30 children to consider. Everyone does their best, but we are living in a world where the majority of people just don’t understand the importance of listening to tears. I hope one day they do. What a happier and healthier world that would be.
Would you like help to prepare your child for doctor visits? Check out Hand in Hand parenting’s free podcast here.