Today, my eight year old son drew my attention to his sore knee, which he bruised falling on stairs at our home yesterday. He has a nice purple bruise in the middle of his knee. When distracted, he walks fine and does not complain about the pain. When his attention is on his knee, he complains of pain and walks with a limp.
As it happens, he complained to me about the pain in his knee this morning. I was tempted to say that it did not look too bad and to remind him that I had seen him walking fine earlier. My intention in making such statements would have been to reassure him that he would be okay. However, I instinctively knew that this would precipitate anger, strong assertions that the pain was significant and further assertions that I was not taking the matter seriously. I also knew that he would complain and limp until I did take the matter seriously.
So, I advised my son that his knee looked painful and that I would put a bandage on it. After I had done this, he walked freely and did not complain of pain for the rest of the day.
The moral of the story is that empathy is the most reassuring response a parent can provide to their child.
Colby Pearce is a Clinical Psychologist and author who specialises in assisting children and families overcome adversity and experience strong and secure attachment relationships. If you'd like to read more of Colby's work, then you can visit his blog.