A Nightmare In The Making?

From the Trenches (true story):

Recently, a mother and her 5 or 6-year-old son were observed in a large, urban hospital locked in an everyday kind of fuss. Nothing new there. But wait until you hear what this mom pulled out of her hat in a moment of sheer parental frustration.

(Take note: You do not want to do this!)

He said: “Mommy, I’m getting on the elevator right now.”

She said: “Don’t you dare. I’ve told you a million times that you cannot get on the elevator alone, you’ll get lost. I’m not kidding!”

He said: “But I want to go now!” and started to make a quick and dirty break for the elevator.

She said: “Cole, I’m serious! Do you know what happens to kids who get on the elevator by themselves? They end up on the 12th floor and then the doctors dissect them.”

He said: “What’s ‘dissect them’ mean?”

She grabbed him and they walked off together while she explained the meaning of dissect. Funny? No, not so much.

Sometimes people wonder where phobias come from. Just consider how this one could play out:

A young child hears a story from his tired, exasperated mother about doctors cutting up little children who get lost in the hospital. The information, given by the person he trusts most in the world, is accepted and goes into his brain where it takes root.

Given his level of cognitive ability, this child is not yet clear on the concept of real vs. make-believe. Nor does he understand that his mother’s motivation in scaring him to death was to simply get him to obey. He just understands the getting scared to death part. After a while though, he forgets what his mother told him but the freaky, frightening story and all of its implications has been stored in his mind and affects the way he feels about the medical community.

Going to the doctor (or, God forbid, the hospital for any kind of treatment) becomes uncomfortable. As he gets older, he develops an unreasonable and unexplained fear of both. This fear makes it hard for him to take care of his health responsibly because he goes out of his way to avoid doctors. His unease around medical people may result in his refusal to get regular check-ups or screening tests for diseases that can be treated when caught early.

Could it happen? It could. The long term potential impact is big. But all of this could have been avoided if his mom had thought about how impressionable her little son’s mind was. If she had thought ahead and developed better strategies to use when things got stressful and chaotic, things could have been much different for him. Because as we all know, things DO get stressful and chaotic — frequently.

Nobody tries to create fears in their child that can fester for years or a lifetime. But unless we take the time to learn parenting techniques that are effective and supportive we might blurt out a doozie like that ourselves when we’re out of patience. And those hollow but terrifying threats can and do cause emotional and psychological damage.

So please mamas, do yourself (and your kids) a favor and make sure you have a kinder but equally effective strategy to count on next time you find yourself in a situation like this one. Don’t try to scare them into obedience. It may well backfire. I’m just sayin’…..

 

 

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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