"Bet you can't catch me!" Noel challenged his best pal, Mike. The two boys bolted through the door to the playground before I could offer a word of caution. Several days of poor weather had made all the children restless and eager to flex their muscles. "These two are making up for lost time," I thought, as they chased each other toward the playground. And then, in a flash, it happened. Noel was on the ground, and blood and tears were streaming from his face.
I rushed over and was relieved to see he was completely alert. Fortunately, we regularly review our procedures for accidents, and Mrs. Perry, our aide, ran to call Noel's parents. I crouched down beside Noel, and the other children gathered in a hushed group around us. I was so intent on stopping the bleeding with a cold compress that, at first, I didn't see how upset Mike was. "What's the matter with Noel? What's the matter with him?" he asked over and over.
Noel's mom arrived and Mrs. Perry gently coaxed the children back into the fours' room. But Mike wouldn't budge. I put an arm around him and together we watched as Noel's mom comforted her son. His mouth had stopped bleeding, but one tooth clearly was very loose, and his chin and forehead were badly scraped. Our director offered to drive Noel and his mom to the emergency room so he could be seen by a doctor.
After they left, it took a while for the children to settle down. We sat in a circle and talked about what had happened. There were lots of stories about minor mishaps and injuries. But Mike was so upset he couldn't talk or even listen. Later, I called his mom to explain what had happened and told her I was sure Mike would feel better tomorrow. But it didn't turn out that way. The next day, Mike was pale, and he cried easily. He was aimless without his friend Noel, who had gone to the dentist. Then the following day, Noel sauntered in with lots of stories about the emergency room and the dentist. He pointed proudly to a missing front tooth. Everyone but Mike seemed delighted to have him back. I've been surprised to see Mike avoiding his good friend.
THE PARENT'S STORY
My son Mike and his buddy Noel are great friends. They play together in school and often visit each other's homes. But since the day Noel got hurt, Mike won't even talk about him. "Should we call Noel on the phone and see how he is?" my husband asked the evening of the accident. Mike just shook his head and walked away. That night, we were awakened by Mike's crying from a bad dream. I tried to comfort him, but he just kept saying, "Something bad happened."
Mike's usually so energetic and ready for fun, but for the last few days he's been kind of droopy. And he's usually full of after-school stories that he can't wait to tell. Today Mike wouldn't even talk about Noel's return. He just moped around the house. I watched him play with two stuffed animals. The teddy bear and seal chased each other, and the seal fell down. I guess Mike can't get the accident out of his mind.
Dr. Brodkinls Assessment
Although the adults know that Noel's accident was no one's fault, Mike may feel responsible because he had been chasing Noel. It is also probably upsetting for Mike, because the boys are such close friends. But while Mike expressed the strongest feelings about seeing Noel hurt, other members of the group may have been alarmed, as well. Young children are often fearful of bodily harm, and seeing a classmate injured, even if not seriously, can bring their fears to mind.
What the Teacher Can Do
The teacher was wise to encourage the group to talk about the accident right away. The chance to "debrief" and then see that Noel was fine when he returned to school seems to have dispelled the other children's concerns. But the teacher correctly sensed that Mike needed more time to sort it all out. He may need extra reassurance that the fall was an accident.
It would be good to use every opportunity to enhance Mike's mastery of the experience. His teacher might watch for a chance to join in and extend his dramatic play, offering remedies when someone falls down: "Is someone bringing the first-aid kit? Is his mom taking him to the doctor?" Reading stories such as Curious George Goes to the Hospital by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey (Houghton Mifflin, 1966; $5.95) about people who get sick or hurt, then get better, might help. And talking about how the doctors and dentists helped Noel may reassure all the children.
What the Parent Can Do
The parent can also help by joining Mike's quiet play. When the stuffed animal falls down, she might ask what he thinks happens next or how the other animal feels about it. Mike may be wary of outdoor play now, but ultimately his urge to have fun is likely to take over. Family outings to the zoo or a firehouse or even a visit to Grandma may begin to raise Mike's spirits. And before long, he'll probably be asking if Noel can come along, too.