You might feel a little pinch

In a previous post, I mentioned my 5 year-old son’s experience with a nurse taking a blood sample, and it got me thinking about one of the concepts I’ve been applying in the raising of my boy that I’ve found to be quite effective. The general concept is to be honest and complete in explanations of things and events and not withholding information due to either it being bad news, uncomfortable to talk about, or something I know that his limited intellect can’t comprehend.

There’s various reasons for this. First, I note that one is never served by a lack of knowledge, even if that person is a child. When we excessively withhold information from our children, we actively delay their ability to handle the real world. Shield them from enough, and they’ll still be effectively children when they hit their 20’s. Interesting that this is exactly what we see today. Less than 200 years ago, David Farragut served as a midshipman aboard the USS Essex. Not only serving aboard a warship, but he was considered fit to command one of the prize ships that the Essex’s won in combat. David Farragut was 12 years old. Nowadays, we fret over allowing a 16 year old to drive a car at night.

I’m not arguing that we should return to the days when 12 year olds served in the armed forces or spent their days grueling in horrible work conditions just to get by. The idea that should be noted here is simply that less than 200 years ago, people we currently call “adolescent” indeed had the capability to handle such things. Note well the courage, maturity and responsibility necessary just to serve as an officer on a warship during wartime, let alone to be in command of a ship, and realize that in 1812, a 12 year old pulled it off.

I believe that the reason kids and young adults now don’t show these levels of maturity and responsibility is directly due to our shielding them from accurate and complete information about things. About life. We shield them from harsh realities, we procrastinate and avoid subjects that make us uncomfortable. If we don’t think they can understand the thing, we tell them “it’s complicated, you wouldn’t understand” rather than just explaining things and letting them decide whether they can comprehend it or not.

If a bit of knowledge is uncomfortable for me to talk about, I see the problem as being with me. The discomfort lies only within me. Is it either wise or fair to allow what amounts to some psychological issue of mine hold back my child’s acquisition of knowledge? To me, it simply doesn’t make sense and has a definite selfish ring to it. Adults in my son’s life are his only means of gathering knowledge at this point in his life, and if we don’t answer questions accurately, the questions will linger and forward progress is stalled.

If I feel that the answer to his question is above his ability to comprehend, I tell him anyway. Simplify as much as possible, but don’t water it down. I let him decide whether he understood the answer or not rather than making an an assumption. And I’m frequently amazed when, after giving him an explanation that I was sure he didn’t understand, he comes wandering in a week later and saying something that proved that not only had he pondered it in the intervening time and come to understanding but also showing that he’d taken it to the next step (and has another question :) ).

It seems to me that it actually stimulates a growing intellect when you provide explanations that are ever so slightly above the child’s current ability to comprehend. It forces them to think about it, and by thinking about it, they wind up increasing their ability to understand things. Of course, you definitely want to make explanations as simple as possible, but when it just can’t be simplified and you’re sure they won’t understand, tell ‘em anyway. You’ll be surprised (or your money back). And if it’s something that is uncomfortable to talk about, tell ‘em that too and why one would feel uncomfortable talking about it.

I likewise don’t feel it wise to overly shield children from the harsher realities of life. The sooner one can successfully deal with things like death, pain, and both real and so-called evil, the better off one is. The sooner one knows about such things, the sooner one learns to deal with these wholly unavoidable realities. Which brings me to the topic of my post.

You might feel a little pinch, okay? Ever heard that one before? Does a needle sticking into your arm actually feel like a pinch to anybody? Personally, I can easily tell the difference. But they always call it a “little pinch”. Sometimes it really doesn’t hurt any more than a pinch, true, but that’s when you lucked out and got a nurse who’s on top of her game. On the other hand, if the person sticking the needle into you isn’t very good at it or is having a bad day, calling it a “pinch” is an outright lie. Does anyone with any intelligence not realize that if you tell a child who trusts you that “this will feel like a pinch”, and then have to stick him 10 times, with him coming off the table in pain as you dig around and ultimately leaving his hand black and blue, that you have permanently and irrevocably lost any trust he originally gave you?

Ever since my son was an infant, whenever a syringe- or butterfly needle-wielding nurse said “this will be a little pinch” to him, I immediately corrected her: Don’t believe her, son, this will feel really weird and will probably hurt like hell. But we have to do this, and it will be over quickly. Hang in there. Squeeze my finger if you want, that might help you bear it. The nurses sometimes seem annoyed when I do this, but over time it has worked perfectly. Knowing that something is going to hurt allows one to steel themselves for it, and knowing that it will be over quickly gives one the fortitude to handle it.

This approach served us well when he was recently in the hospital. The doctor wanted a blood test, so in walks a nurse with the requisite butterfly needle and vacuum vials. “This’ll be a little pinch”, she chirps, and I broke in with my standard refrain I mentioned above. She sticks him (top of wrist). No hit. She digs around a little. No hit. Sticks him again. Calls in another nurse who thumps around and tries herself, digging around to find the vein. I was wincing in pain myself just watching them stick him repetitively and dig around a little each time. I should insert here that the nurses here were by no means incompetent, this was simply a really difficult case. My son was severely dehydrated due to not having been able to keep down water, and no amount of coaxing would make his veins even slightly visible.

Anyway, I think that had we told him that it was only going to hurt a little, and then have him experience what was most likely the most painful 5 minutes of his entire life that left the entire top of his hand/wrist black and blue, it would have served to drastically lower his trust levels. His pain is gone and virtually forgotten now, but his trust that I’ll tell him the truth even when it’s a bitter pill to swallow endures.

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