That Doesn’t Hurt

We went to three separate places for our flu shots today — me to the clinic, Working Mom to the prenatal table up on the seventh floor, and Boo over to the pediatrics department up the hill and across the street.

Let me set the scene: picture a lot of hair. My daughter, as you have probably noticed, has hair like a wookiee, we haven’t washed it in a while and if I get ten brush strokes in a day we’re doing well. I’d call it “dredlocks” but there’s really only one big mass up there. She has a dredlock, maybe, the singular form.

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Feeling no pain.

She’s also taken to wearing the Blueberry’s infant clothes. Today, at least, I got her into a mostly big-girl outfit, except for the jacket and socks, which were two years too small for her.

After watching WM and I get our arms stuck while we winced with pain, Boo’s toddler jealousy exploded. So here’s this little girl dressed in cast-off infant clothes with an enormous chunk of hair jumping around the hospital lobby and shouting “I want a SHOT!” in no semblance of the inside voice we’d requested. We got some of those “what a cutie” looks, but mostly people moved away. Quickly.

Finally we told Boo that if she used her polite language, we would reward her with a flu shot of her own. “Can I have a shot — elephant please?” she pleaded, blowing her big eyes up even wider than usual.

Sure, kid. Let’s go get you a shot.

* * *

Pain for kids is like tickets to your second cousin’s indie band show: it comes on a steeply sliding scale. Are we having a lot of fun with friends? Then we can ignore that severed finger. Are we bored and not getting any adult attention? Then “OUCH! I just BRUSHED my ELBOW against that PAPER BAG!” is the only reasonable response.

Accordingly, Boo took her flu shot with complete aplomb; she didn’t even notice the stick itself until she was being plied with the “My Little Pony” sticker. (“Transformers” for the boys, of course. Sigh.)

Despite all that, and I hate to be prescriptive, there’s not much that bothers me more than when I hear a parent say this: “That doesn’t hurt.”

What if you’re wrong? If whatever happened really does hurt, you’re not going to convince the kid otherwise.

Or, maybe the statement is correct: the that (whatever it is) really doesn’t hurt. Then the child who’s putting on airs of injury is asking for something she doesn’t have the language for. You’ve got to help find the right words, not just shut her down.

I don’t find the right approach every time Boo is (or pretends to be) hurt. If she’s seeking attention, sometimes tickling works — but other times that doesn’t seem to afford her needs the right level of respect. So I distract her by offering her a choice — Boo likes choices. (The content of the choice is irrelevant; letting her choose which car door to go out of is a favorite.) Or — rarely — sometimes she just wants a hug.

Besides, and I think this is the real key, it doesn’t help kids to tell them that they don’t hurt or they won’t hurt, because they will. I just want Boo to know that if she does hurt, I’ll do whatever I can to lessen it.

Today, Boo raced away from the flu shot nurse, but only because she wanted to get back to the play fort in the waiting room, not for any pain or fear. This time, at least, I had no chance to ease the pain because she had simply decided that there was no pain there.

Would that we all had such power — and may she never lose it.