The other day my son fell off a relatively high bar stool when his babysitter went to the other side of the room to grab her phone.
Of course, it was me who was texting.
And for the record – this is the first Boo Boo he’s had in 6 months of care with this amazing sitter – it was not her fault!
Needless to say, my son was pretty shook up. He had blood splattered on his shirt and a big cut on his chin and lip.
When I walked in the door, he kept looking into my eyes and crying, “boo boo! boo boo!”, even moments after he calmed down again.
I did the only thing I could do to calm him down: I discussed the boo boo.
Wow, Hunter I started. What happened?
Did you fall off the chair over there? (We were still at the babysitter’s house.)
Yeah. He cried pitifully.
Did it scare you when you fell?
Did Janie pick you up and hold you and tell you it was okay?
Did she give you medicine and this cool band-aid?
Boo boo! He began wailing again but I persisted.
Hunter, did mommy come right away to get you?
And now we’re here in each other’s arms and there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Suddenly my son smiled. I hold up my hand for a high-five and he enthusiastically returns my gesture.
What just happened?
The technique I used was engaging my son’s left brain while his right brain was dominating his emotions.
I helped him make the connection from traumatic experience to the present: he’s okay and in mommy’s arms.
I learned this technique in one of my favorite “baby brain books” The Whole Brained Child by Dr. Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.
Siegel and Bryson explain that as parents, we shouldn’t sweep things under the rug when they’re traumatic for a child. Children, like adults, need time to process emotions.
Even though my son isn’t yet two and doesn’t have many words, I talked through his traumatic experience as though he was an adult.
This method is a sort of horizontal integration that allows my child to engage his entire brain, the left and right, high and low, so that he will not be overcome with disintegrated emotions.
In fact, the authors describe integration of the left and right sides of the brain as the key to quelling temper tantrums, melt downs, and an otherwise emotionally distraught child.
You see, to put it simply, our left brains are logical and our right brains are emotional. As the authors put it, our left brain is concerned with the law and our right brains are concerned with the “spirit of the law”.
In order to help our children achieve integration (so that they aren’t stuck in right-brained temper tantrums), it’s important that we show them we feel their pain, fear, sadness, and disappointment. Don’t sweep their experience under the rug and don’t discount their very valid emotions!
Story-telling is a great way to make sense of an otherwise traumatic event, like Hunter falling off a high chair.
Once I told my son the story three or four times throughout the day, I began having him fill in details. Where was the chair, Hunter?
What happened when you fell?
Even at less than two years old, Hunter began to make sense of the experience he had. And therefore, he began to make peace with the pain.
Don’t hesitate to use this trick on children past toddler age and all the way through elementary school and beyond and if you have the chance, definitely pick up Siegel and Bryson’s incredible book here.