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How to Help Your Child Cope When They Get Injured

A Personal Perspective: The 5 life lessons we learned as a family.

Key points

  • An injury can teach us to be patient and gentle with life, with the body, and with each other.
  • Being injured can be an invitation to learn about our inner worlds, such as through yoga, mindfulness, breathwork, and managing emotions.
  • "Bad days" can teach us to allow these emotions to be there and make peace with not needing to be happy or have good days all the time.

On August 23rd, my son was out mountain biking with his teacher and friends. As usual, my husband and I waited at home with lunch ready around noon. At 12.15, he still hadn't shown up. As his mom, I’ve done a lot of work on releasing my fear around this sport and trusting in his passion. And then, we got that call from his teacher. He had done a relatively easy jump he’s done before, went over the handlebar, and was hurt and in a lot of pain.

We raced up the mountain in the car. He was in the kind of pain you never want to see, let alone hear, your child be in. We got him to the hospital for x-rays to be told that his collarbone was badly broken. The images were intense. My 8-year-old boy, who’d already had stitches five times, had broken his first bone.

Collar bones, I found out, are the most common broken bone in childhood. They are also incredibly tricky to heal, as you can’t just put them in a cast and forget about it. The collar bone is moving all the time, too, so how on earth were we going to help an active 8-year-old boy not move for a minimum of 6 weeks?!

We got him a "figure-of-8" support that keeps both shoulders aligned and a sling. He had to sleep in this for the next month at least. (Always ask for a second opinion because our first doctor didn’t give us the "figure-of-8" brace, and, yet, it is the best option for making sure the bone grows back straight.)

Sleeping was very painful for him, and the reality of the next few months came crashing down. No sports. No activity. Canceled birthday party plans. No more usual things that kids do at playtime. There were many things like getting dressed, fun play dates, and kicking a soccer ball that he couldn't do. We became constant eyes on what he was doing for fear of displacing his collarbone or hurting it again, which, of course, he hated us for.

As with everything, we got into a new normal at home. We found other things for him to do that weren’t physical: reading, artwork, learning guitar, finding new cool songs. Every night before sleep, we visualized the two bones fusing together.

And, still, it shifted his world from being the big, strong, active kid to not being able to do what he loved.

Here are five things that we learned along the way:

  1. Have patience. When your child is injured, the mind makes you believe things will never heal and get better. The only way for us to manage this long road ahead was to chunk it down a day at a time and to celebrate each week that we got through. I would never wish an injury on anyone, and, yet, it is an immediate way to learn how to be patient and gentle with life, with the body, and with each other.
  2. You can do hard things. This statement is one we told him quite early on and he took it on as part of his new identity. This was probably one of the hardest things life had thrown his way, and he was going to be the hero of his journey. He would find out how strong he really was, not just physically but, this time, mentally and emotionally.
  3. Our inner world is as important as our outer world. This one was definitely new for him. His world was all external before this: soccer, biking, running, climbing, scootering, swimming. So when all that is suddenly put on hold, it was an invitation to learn about the inner world we also live in. We started talking about meditation, beliefs, emotions, fears, faith, and, most importantly, self-kindness. As one world-class athlete who broke his leg and arm as a teenager told him, it forces you to "go inside." It was during that time he learned about yoga, mindfulness, breathwork, and managing emotions. He credits this as being what made him win top competitions when the pressure is sky-high. Instead of relying on his outer athletic skill, he was able to integrate his inner skills, too. My son loved this message.
  4. Learn to focus. My son fell because he didn’t focus. He will tell you it was a super-easy jump, so he didn’t take the time to prepare. This is a painful lesson but one that will serve him for life. Kids tend to not be very focused as they are usually messing around, testing their limits, showing off, or lost in their thoughts. This injury helped our son see the importance of focusing his mind and body.
  5. Embrace bad days. Some days and nights were worse than others. Sometimes I was the one that couldn’t handle how heartbreaking it was when he missed sports competitions at school, every PE class, recess…or when he was sad that he was teased or excluded. He had days when emotions were very intense. We all learned to allow these emotions to be there and made peace with not needing to be happy or have good days all the time.

My son still doesn’t have the green light to go back to all his usual activities. He now has to do physical therapy and take it easy. He’s still learning to trust his body again, listen to his intuition, and make good decisions by himself.

My biggest lesson has been that my child may learn more from this injury than anything else he’s gone through this year, and, hopefully, it will serve him for life. And these five tools are as much for parents as they are for kids!

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