Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Band-Aid Effect

Parenting requires walking a fine line between creative problem solving and outright chicanery. We tell our children all sorts of white lies to teach them, to make them behave, and sometimes just to please please shut up. There are some huge and happy doozies we all promote in the spirit of childhood (to which we will all nod knowingly without my having to spell it out), and there are the common mindless retorts that you probably picked up from your mother (e.g., "Your eyes will freeze that way.").

Then there are things you come up with on the fly solely to pacify your child and get on with things. The scientific name is placebo effect, but most parents may know it better as The Band-Aid Effect or The Ice Pack Effect, whichever is the go-to boo-boo remedy at your house. I get my panties in a bunch about money wasted on band-aids that will remained adhered only long enough to stop the tears, so we go with the eco-friendly reusable ice pack for all non-blood injuries.

The Band-Aid Effect is not limited to minor injuries. Much of the time, all a child needs is an indication from us that we're paying attention, that we care about whatever is agitating them, whether it is physical discomfort or miniature mental anguish. The parent's solution doesn't need to actually solve a problem, it only needs to be perceived as doing so. Your child is terrified of monsters? Mix up some Anti-Monster Spray in a spray bottle, mist aggressively, and tuck the little guy into bed. Your child has a stuffy nose? Bring an extra pillow to solve the problem and a box of tissues to show how much you care.

At our house, fears have not been a problem. Mystery ailments dominate, particularly the kindergartner's Bedtime Ailments. The symptoms vary--headache, stomachache, sore throat, and pain in the knee seem to predominate--but the onslaught of symptoms is always perfectly timed with lights out. She'll be bouncing around, energetic and cheerful, but as soon as I reach for the lamp she is so overcome that she cannot possibly sleep until I have done something to make her feel better. Tears ensue. The above symptoms are so common that I now can get through them with a "get some sleep, and I'm sure you'll feel better." Others require more creativity.

Tonight it was an earache. Not a single word about any ear pain until the second I turned out the light, at which point she became bereft, sobbing that it hurt really really bad. I tried my oft-used "You must be getting a cold, I'll get you a second pillow" response, but the Bedtime Ailments were pretty stubborn tonight and required actual medical treatment. She pleaded for some medicine, suggesting that Motrin would help. (Yes, I have a five-year-old Motrin junkie on my hands.)

I'm not going to say that I've never given my kids a dose of Motrin that wasn't strictly required, but I try to avoid it for obvious reasons. To avoid unnecessary drugs tonight, I needed some serious parental creativity, and I found it in the bathroom drawer--Vicks Vapo-Rub. Topical, smells medicine-y, harmless. I scooped a fingerful of Vicks, went to the suffering child, and very gently as only a truly caring mother would do, rubbed it in the region of her ear pain. The crying stopped. I left the room, pleased at what a very clever mommy I am.

Five minutes later she was out of bed, explaining that while the "ointment" had helped the ear pain, it was really irritating her skin. She washed it off and went to sleep. I'm still not sure if The Band-Aid Effect or distracting skin irritation was the cause, but the effect was a sleeping child. All is well.

What lies (I mean creative problem-solving techniques) have you used on your kids?

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