The value of dis­com­fort

Chil­dren who learn to han­dle dis­tress (shots are a good start) grow into re­silient adults

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Sharon Hernes Sil­ver­man Sharon Hernes Sil­ver­man is the au­thor of “13 Steps to More Peace­ful Fam­i­lies,” “13 Steps to Bet­ter Grades,” and “No More Home­work Headaches!” Her email is Sharon@SharonSil­ver­

In­creas­ingly, par­ents who don’t want to get their chil­dren vac­ci­nated against a broad range of danger­ous dis­eases cite their chil­dren’s com­fort as a rea­son to skip the shots. This de­spite in­for­ma­tion from the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics that the vac­cines are safe, ef­fec­tive and pow­er­ful, and that they ben­e­fit the pub­lic at large.

The “com­fort” ex­cuse high­lights a larger so­ci­etal prob­lem: We as par­ents are so re­luc­tant to have our chil­dren ex­pe­ri­ence a mo­ment of dis­tress or in­con­ve­nience that we are turn­ing an en­tire gen­er­a­tion into a bunch of hy­per­sen­si­tive, en­ti­tled brats who fall to pieces when they get a hang­nail.

This would be a good time to re­mind our­selves that our job as par­ents is not to pro­tect our chil­dren from the world but to teach them how to nav­i­gate it suc­cess­fully. Much as we might not want to face it, life can be pretty scary and upset­ting. Bad things hap­pen to all of us, and they will hap­pen to our chil­dren. It is our re­spon­si­bil­ity to give them the tools they will need to cope with those inevitable dif­fi­cul­ties. As part of that, it’s not only OK for our kids to ex­pe­ri­ence dis­com­fort and dis­ap­point­ment now and then, it is cru­cial for their de­vel­op­ment into sturdy, re­silient adults.

Let’s take vac­ci­na­tion as an ex­am­ple. First, we have to put aside our own re­luc­tance to let our chil­dren ex­pe­ri­ence pain and re­mem­ber that some­times a small hurt or in­con­ve­nience can pre­vent a big­ger one. A bro­ken en­gage­ment is dif­fi­cult, but if it heads off a dis­as­trous mar­riage it’s worth it. No­body en­joys wear­ing a bi­cy­cle hel­met on a hot day, but it’s bet­ter than smash­ing one’s head against the curb. Sim­i­larly, the brief jab of the hy­po­der­mic nee­dle can pre­vent se­ri­ous dis­eases in­clud­ing measles, diph­the­ria, rubella and per­tus­sis, to name a few, not just for our chil­dren but for the wider com­mu­nity. This isn’t just the­o­ret­i­cal: In late 2014 and early 2015, a mul­ti­state measles out­break started with a sin­gle un­vac­ci­nated child at Dis­ney­land.

Be hon­est with your chil­dren. Tell them they are go­ing to get a shot to help keep them and oth­ers from get­ting sick. If they ask you if it will hurt, tell them it prob­a­bly will, but only for a short time. (You should even talk to a baby, de­scrib­ing what’s hap­pen­ing. He or she might not un­der­stand the words, but the mes­sage that “Some­one is telling me what to ex­pect” and that par­ents are telling the truth will start to sink in, which will make it eas­ier for you to have those con­ver­sa­tions when your baby be­comes a tod­dler.)

Ex­press con­fi­dence that your chil­dren will be able to man­age the pain. Some­times when we “pro­tect” them, the un­spo­ken mes­sage is: “I don’t think you can han­dle this.” Let your chil­dren know that you’re cer­tain they will get through the brief ouch of the shot just fine.

Do not un­der­mine your pe­di­a­tri­cian! It’s OK to tell your child, “You’re go­ing to get the shot now.” It is not help­ful to ask, “Is it OK if the doc­tor gives you the vac­ci­na­tion now?”

Give your chil­dren the op­por­tu­nity to be brave. It may be­come a point of pride for them to count to five dur­ing an in­jec­tion, or to be pleased that they didn’t cry. Com­pli­ment this self-con­trol as they gain it.

Keep things in per­spec­tive — it’s just a shot. A col­or­ful ban­dage or a sticker is an ap­pro­pri­ate way to mark the oc­ca­sion; a trip to the toy store is overkill. (Hugs are al­ways ap­pro­pri­ate.)

Set a good ex­am­ple. Take your chil­dren along when you get your an­nual flu shot. Show them that you can say, “Ow, that hurt a bit!” and then go on with your day. Your ac­tions will send the mes­sage that shots are im­por­tant for ev­ery­one in the fam­ily, in­clud­ing you, and that the nee­dle it­self is no big deal.

Vac­ci­na­tions help keep your chil­dren’s bod­ies healthy. At the same time, cop­ing with a lit­tle dis­com­fort can in­oc­u­late them against dev­as­tat­ing social ills in­clud­ing Mommy-Will-Do-It-for-Me Syn­drome, The-Rules-Don’t-Ap­ply-to-Me-Itis and ICan’t-I-Can’t-I-CAN’T Dis­ease.

So buck up. You and your kids will sur­vive their child­hood shots just fine. The rest of us are count­ing on you. “Herd im­mu­nity” isn’t a very poetic term, but its mean­ing is in­spir­ing: We’re all in this to­gether. Do the right thing. Get your chil­dren vac­ci­nated, then wipe their tears.


Daniel Molloy braves a flu shot in De­cem­ber given by Lau­rie John­son at the Car­roll County of­fice of the Mary­land Depart­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene in West­min­ster.

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