Today I am retelling an encounter with my son from this week, and sharing some takeaway lessons.
7am, Tuesday morning. Rogue One (8 years old) woke up multiple times overnight scared of something. He ended up in our bed after waking us up several times (by successfully annoying us enough to end up in our bed).
I’ve already been up and helped my wife get out the door to work, along with Rogue Three (one year old) who had to go to daycare. I went to lay down again for a few minutes. Rogue Two (4 years) was hanging with grandma for the night (for an unrelated and benign reason). It’s just the two of us.
Rogue Dad: <Laying in bed> Time to get up and go get ready for school
<Rogue One gets up quickly and without complaint, wanders off to bathroom, comes back into my room>
Rogue One: <Says something incoherently with a finger in his mouth>
One: I have a loose tooth — can you cut it out?
Dad: No — it’s bad to cut it out. It’ll fall out on its own
One: But it hurts!
Dad: Stop poking at it and it won’t hurt as much. It’ll fall out soon.
One: <getting upset> But I really want it out! It hurts!
Dad: I’m not going to cut it out — just stop poking at it. Go get ready for school.
One: <Walking towards door, getting more upset> I feel sick, like I’m going to throw up
Dad: <incredulous> What?
One: I think I’m going to throw up
Dad: No you’re not — you’re fine
One: I’m going to throw up!
Dad: Then go stand over the toilet. <He heads towards my bathroom> Not my bathroom, go in yours! Run!
One: <He runs out of the room yelling> My belly hurts!
<I am still laying in bed. I check my phone for messages, then slowly get up and walk down the hall towards his room, hearing yelling and intermittent crying. I enter his bathroom where he is on the floor next to the toilet>
One: <Yelling> I think I’m going to die! My belly hurts, I think I’m going to throw up
Dad: You’re not dying, you’re fine.
One: I’m dying!
Dad: Of what? What are you dying from?
One: I think I’m dying, my belly hurts!
Dad: If you’re dying, I need to call an ambulance to take you to the hospital. Do you want me to call an ambulance?
One: <Continuing to yell at the top of his lungs and cry> No, but I think I’m dying!
Dad: <Calmly> You’re just really tired because you didn’t sleep well. But if you think you are dying I need to call an ambulance. So if you want an ambulance just tell me and I’ll call. Do you want an ambulance?
One: <Still crying> No
Dad: <I hand him tissue to wipe his eyes, then toss his clothes on ground next to him> Ok, here are your clothes. Take some deep breaths and calm yourself down a little. <He takes some breaths> Now get dressed and eat breakfast
<I wander away to bathroom, come back a couple minutes later; he’s standing up, calm, almost dressed>
Dad: How are you feeling?
One: Better. But my belly was hurting
Dad: That’s because you were upset. You’re tired and your mouth hurt then you became upset and that made your belly hurt. Go ahead and go eat breakfast
One: Ok! But how am I going to eat? My tooth hurts!
Dad: Chew on the other side of your mouth <I walk away>
End of scene
If this seems like a dramatic re-enactment, I assure you this is relatively faithful to what actually transpired.
Also, he came home from school and said someone had told him to twist the tooth until it came out. So he did. And it came out.
Lessons learned from this:
- Sleep! — lack of sleep impacts us in numerous ways. My son’s fatigue contributed to him turning a toothache into a visit from The Grim Reaper. Kids need more sleep than most parents realize (my wife has been the biggest champion of this in our house). Most adults need more sleep than they budget for themselves (my wife is also the biggest champion of this in our house). Sleep deprivation affects everyone. We may drink some coffee and have a bad attitude and slog on, but my son doesn’t get coffee/stimulants and to tell people he didn’t sleep well and move on. He has to go through an entire day at his best or people think he’s acting out or being a bad student. His teacher isn’t going to know that he didn’t sleep well and was a bit of a mess in the morning (FWIW, he was completely fine 10 minutes after this episode started and was fine when he got on the bus)
- Don’t Cry Wolf — my son is going to have perforated appendicitis and I’m going to tell him to walk it off because of episodes like this. While I’ve got a pretty good sense of my son’s personality and temperament, and it was easy for me to internally throw the B.S. flag when his symptoms escalated, not everyone knows him as well. This is not something you want happening when they are with people who do not know them as well
- Always A Doctor — learning to decipher when a patient “sick/not sick” is what we tell just about every intern their goal should be by the end of that year. My work as a pediatrician and a pediatric ER doctor has built this skill, and I apply it at home with my kids without even thinking about it. Maybe I would have that same ability as an adult endocrinologist treating Type II diabetes, but I think its logical to assume people working in the ER have honed this skill more than others (most people figure out where their strengths lie when picking a speciality). Given that background, hopefully when he really is sick I’ll be able to tell. However you don’t need to be a doctor to have some level of this skill — most parents have developed some level of this just through the experiences of raising their own kids.
- Don’t Overindulge — my wife and I generally do not indulge behavior such as this — Rogue One seems to have come by his sense of drama naturally. While not frequent, he will on occasion over-dramaticize complaints. While kids sometimes should be indulged, sometimes you need to throw the proverbial B.S. flag.
- Lead By Example — last week I recounted the story of the young patient who yelled at me because her sandwich was cold — she did this immediately after her mom did the same thing. Kids are still going to develop their own approach to life, but it’ll be worse if you set a bad example. My wife likes to semi-seriously joke that I should not be allowed to play sports. I keep hurting myself — I’ve had so many injuries I’ve lost track. I have had steroid injections in 4-5 different places since medical school because of various nagging problems. A physical therapist once donated a cervical traction device to me for home use. I don’t recommend ignoring pain or just being the tough guy — pain is an important signal. I’ve gone through all these things because I was paying attention to it, but I don’t let it consume or run my life. There are really are degrees of pain and suffering (the scales we use in the ER often do not help differentiate those levels). Make sure your kids consider the people and world around them and understand that to the extent possible.
- Kids Are Resilient — Rogue One was able to calm himself and get back to his routine quickly, and had a good day at school. Everyone needs to learn what they need to do to calm themselves. Teaching this to a child is difficult, practicing it as an adult is extremely hard. When he was screaming at the top of his lungs that he was about to die, I never imagined he would pull the tooth out on his own a few hours later. Maybe the saying is true — what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Any other lessons you would take away from this story? Please comment below.