What Adults Can Learn From A Toddler With A Broken Leg
by, Lisa Herman, PsyD, LP
As a child, I somehow avoided serious physical injury. Ok, there was this one time during my senior year in high school when I broke my thumb that got smashed in a friendly game of broom ball, but that was really it for broken bones. I know it happens by accident quite often. Little kids jumping in a bouncy house to big ones doing tricks on the ski slope – things can happen. And when they do, we always hope they are minor and can heal without long-term damage.
So when my toddler wanted to hang on a bar on the playground (reaching around from a nearby step to get the utmost momentum!) I thought it would be a great lesson in courage! Well, after a few practice tries, I let him have some more freedom and his right hand didn’t catch – he slipped and fell into the sand with a slight twist of speed. Not even my grip on his underarm could save his left tibia from the ever so popular toddler spiral fracture. He landed with my help (or looking back, my “help” might not have been as such…) and I heard the “pop” sound anyone whose broken something is familiar with.
Fast forward and he gets a full leg cast. For 3 weeks. Then a boot for 2 days. Then another full leg cast for 3 more weeks.
As a psychologist, I’m thinking to myself, “Kids are resilient, this will heal, how can we make the best of this situation?”
And as a mother, I’m thinking to myself, “Holly s$%&t what did I do? He can’t walk! Can’t play? What if I didn’t catch him? What if I caught him too soon? I’m such a bad mother!” Insert cry, yell, freak out here.
But here we are, 6 weeks later. His cast just came off and we have time to reflect.
What can we learn from a toddler with a broken leg?
And as a mother, I’m thinking to myself, “Holly s$%&t what did I do?
Trust your kid(s). Trust your gut.
When he first fell, I didn’t know the “pop” sound I heard was a break. I initially thought it was his head hitting the sand as he fell backwards. After that, he clung to me, didn’t want to get back up, cried on and off. Some of that was normal, some of that was not. He was letting me know that something different happened. I trusted my gut in his reaction and put him on the sidewalk to see what was wrong. He wouldn’t put weight on his foot. So, I thought he twisted his ankle. I sat him down and asked him if different parts of his body hurt, knowing some areas were ok and he confirmed that for me. When I got to his left lower leg, he was consistent in saying it hurt and would flinch. I trusted my kid who was telling me something and I trusted my gut has his mother that something was off. A saying from my grandmother, my mother, and now myself is, “It’ll be the best $18 that you’ll spend (to go to the doctor) to have peace of mind everything is ok.” So off to the doctor we went.
Kids more easily adapt to situations and are quite resilient.
Watching my son adapt to a minor injury, I can honestly admit he did much better than the rest of us! He knew things with his leg and mobility were different but … he just adapted. He didn’t get down about it. He didn’t stop from trying to do new things (like walk, or scoot, or play). He had no reason to. Resiliency is innate and it is also learned. The more we model this skill and talk about how to “get up if we fall down” or “keep trying” when we don’t succeed the first time when something doesn’t go our way is necessary in life. He ran circles around us adults in resiliency. It was inspiring to see how his positive attitude overcame adversity.
We tend to take for granted the things we don’t have to think about, the things on auto pilot, until we have to think about them.
We were fortunate. I know this isn’t true in all cases of physical injury. A toddler having a bum leg for 6 weeks with full healing potential isn’t the same as injuries that many other kids have dealt with that don’t heal up so well. The lesson about taking things for granted is an oldie but a goodie; it is an important one in life. We are on auto pilot most days, walking, talking, eating, working, etc. If you’ve ever broken a toe, you know how hard it is to walk. ONE TOE! For the most part, we need all of our body parts (well, some parts we don’t, but stay with me here) to function as best as possible. Only when we are confronted with a loss of full functioning can we truly see it’s value. If we can see the value BEFORE we lose it, the meaning remains closer and our gratitude might stay above water. The more we are thankful for, the less depression/anxiety we might feel.
Support from family, friends, and community is key.
In times of need, people who love you steps up and give. From family members to friends, from preschool teachers to community members (THANK YOU to all of you who called, sent notes and care packages, helped at preschool, babysat…we are grateful!). Good is all around us and many people do care. It’s important to acknowledge those kind-hearted individuals who take the time out of their busy day to make your life a little easier when something goes haywire. It takes a village to raise a kid(s) and we are all in this together.
Slow down. Be present. Laugh.
Having a toddler with a broken leg requires more attention. Before all of this, I could make dinner without being next to him, he could play on his own for a while without worry. With a broken leg, we had to slow down. The house got messier and many things didn’t get done. We typically spend a good amount of quality time with our son, but it felt, at times, that we were back in the infancy stage, making sure he could get from one destination to another. His independence improved as he learned how to get around without help. However, this experience forced us to slow down even more than usual, it allowed us to be more present in each moment and learn from him, really watch him adapt, and continue to enjoy the laughter he fills our lives with…Broken leg or not. He didn’t care.
Now that he got his cast off, he is re-learning how to walk on a sore and weak leg, getting to take baths again (yes it was 6 weeks without one) and find excitement in his new freedom. Oh there are so many lessons we can learn from watching a toddler with a broken leg!