A Broken Arm Leads to a “Break”through

Photo (C) M. Pate 2007

My son is 6-1/2 years old. I’ve been listening to his feelings and doing Parenting by Connection since he was about 1-1/2 years old. He had a rough birth, and has had lots of tension to work through from the beginning.

A couple of weeks ago, he had the biggest accident of his life so far. He was in the playground at school, and fell from the jungle gym to the ground. He broke both bones in his left arm at the wrist. The school worked hard to reach me, but I was in transit, so it took a full hour before I arrived at his school to take over his care. He had been crying and screaming inconsolably in the nurses’ office.

They told me that during that time, while crying hard, he had very articulate thoughts and was able to communicate with the adults who were caring for him. He said he wanted people to leave him alone (I think he meant not to touch him), and cried angrily about why did I have to be on my way to my daughter’s preschool program right at that time. He knew he had broken his arm, and that he was going to have to go to the hospital. He cried about what had happened to him, about what was going to happen, and about the fact that I wasn’t there when it happened.

I picked him up from the little nurses’ station, and took him to the pediatrician’s office. He was screaming in pain, but they wouldn’t give him any medication, in case they had to anesthetize him to set the bones. He was screaming that it hurt, that I needed to take him to the emergency room, that it really hurt, why wasn’t I listening, why hadn’t I been there when the accident happened, and why did he have to go to school. There wasn’t any way I could stop the pain while we were waiting for the doctor, so I sat with him and listened to him scream and cry.

People in the waiting room and the office staff were horrified that I was simply sitting with him, saying, “You can keep telling me about this, I’m right here with you.” He cried and cried. Next we had to go to the pediatric orthopedic surgeon’s office. He cried all the way there, the whole time we waited there, and all the way over to the hospital. He cried and cried on the hospital bed, and a few times, he cried himself to sleep. He sort of dozed off, then woke back up and cried some more. All in all, it was 8 hours of really hard crying, perspiration, and tears. I could smell his body odor—he worked up a heavy sweat.

For me, it was great to not shut him up, to let him really cry. There wasn’t anything I could do to make him quiet or to ease his pain, even if I had tried. It was draining, emotionally, but I felt like I really wanted to stand by his right to tell the world how much it hurt. The principal tried to get him to be quiet, and lots of others tried too. He wasn’t going to take it quietly! Not him!

By the time they were getting him ready to go into the operating room, he was no longer crying. He was perfectly aware of what needed to happen. He was a little nervous about the anesthesia, a little afraid of going to sleep. He wasn’t wild with fear at all, just a bit nervous. But he understood that the anesthesia was necessary, and he was willing.  Finally, they put him under for about 10 minutes and set his arm. It was really quick. He didn’t need any surgery.

He had the best sleep of his life in the recovery room! He fell into a deep sleep there, and he was snoring he was so relaxed!

Since then, he has never felt the need to talk about the whole thing or to grieve about the accident. He’s not afraid because of it. This is so interesting to me, because it was a really major accident. The next day he went to school, he was very proud of his arm, and he was still in pain, but did fine.

Photo (C) M. Pate 2007

Starting from that day, what was amazing was that he could focus more, could read better, and math became easier for him!

School this year has been a real struggle, but it changed markedly after his accident. I don’t think this is just because he can’t be as active with his cast on. I think that the 8 hours of crying and offloading fear, this purging and expelling all kinds of stress and muck made a big difference. I respected him and supported him through it, and from my point of view, he really did well.

Things are now noticeably easier for me with him at home, and easier for him at school. I wouldn’t recommend having a child break their arm to get this benefit, but how amazing is that!

– a Parenting by Connection parent

3 thoughts on “A Broken Arm Leads to a “Break”through

  1. Wow.
    Isn’t crying from physical pain different from crying in fear? Seems to me some ice and additional comfort measures would be in order.

  2. What a mom! I’d like to translate this into Japanese when I get a chance and tell all my friends in Japan.
    Thank you so much for sharing this inspiring story.

  3. Here’s how we see it:
    When a child gets hurt, there’s physical damage to deal with–pain, and at time, help is needed to set up physical healing in the best possible way–splint, washing the wound, stitches, and such. But with every hurt, even shots at the pediatrician’s, a child’s feelings are also involved. There’s pain, but a complex brew of emotions like surprise, insult, anger, helplessness, betrayal…what the child feels is unique to that situation and his own internal makeup. We can’t know all the feelings that arise out of even a small incident of physical injury. Often, the body overreacts to the injury, sending a flood of inflammation to the injured site, that does help the healing process, but that also causes more pain, and sometimes, more trouble of its own. Thus, the universal “ice” remedy. We try to stop the body’s overreaction.

    When a child is hurt physically, he’s crying for both reasons, the pain and the emotional brew of feelings he experiences. And there’s a third factor–if listened to, a child will tap into previous times of injury or emotional hurt that he hasn’t worked all the way through yet. For instance, if a child had had to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit right after birth, and had to be poked and prodded and alone there, then even small scuffs on the knee will bring an enormous flood of feelings, that, if a parent is willing to listen, could last 20 minutes or more, although the scuff wasn’t bad at all. The child starts crying about the pain and insult of it, but so many feelings from earlier experiences are triggered that have yet to be resolved, that he or she will cry for 3 minutes about the current scuff, and then keep right on going for a long time, draining that swamp of early difficult feelings around an experience that was very hard for him or her.

    So, in this anecdote, the broken arm led to lots of crying about missing his mom, and then about hating school, in the midst of all the pain. He just kept on sweeping out feelings of hurt, apparently, both current and past, and the next day, he felt great, and was functioning better than ever. So if someone can listen, a child will settle old scores in the midst of healing from the current injury.

    For instance, I’ve worked with children about getting inoculations. If you listen well when they cry fully about one, and help them work on it playfully, too, often they are completely calm for the next one, even though they know it probably will hurt.
    Does that make sense to you?

    Yours,

    Patty Wipfler

    Hand in Hand Executive Director, Founder and Trainer

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