One minor injury leaving a deep psychological mark...anyone been through s.thing similar? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 04-21-2012, 12:14 PM - Thread Starter
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My son is almost 23 months old. A few weeks ago he had what I can only describe as a hangnail, although for a few days there we were wondering if it was a nailbed infection. His big toenail was kind of splitting off and we just left it alone but he did complain of "owie" there, although nothing dramatic. Then the nail was just hanging there so we decided to try and cut that part off. Well, that was a very intensely dramatic event involving much screaming and trying to hold him still. DH was able to cut part of it off and it was very slightly bleeding. I think DS got very freaked out because in his mind his toe was falling off. I don't even think he saw the blood (it was the equivalent of like one drop) but he did see the hangnail and it just sent him over the edge. We in fact gave up before getting the whole thing off and just put a bandaid on it. Then a week or so later I did manage to cut the hangnail off while he slept and by then it seemed absolutely fine. This whole "injury" was the kind of thing that for an adult would be absolutely nothing but for a toddler it was really intense.


Anyway while this all was going on he always insisted on having socks on, I think so that he didn't have to see or be reminded of the whole thing. That was understandable but it has been more than a week since it was "all better" and he still freaks out every time we change his socks, or even if one falls off in the middle of the night he will literally wake up crying "sock back on!!!". When he sees his foot or when we change his socks, it's just like when he saw his hangnail. It's as if every time he sees his foot now he pictures his toe falling off; like he can't realize that it's over and healed and better now. He screams and cries just like when we were trying to cut the nail off. It's really intense. I totally get this: the experience was traumatic for him and made an imprint and it's still there. I don't even mind so much as far as: if he needs to have socks on his feet for the rest of his life that's fine. But it's sad because he gets so upset and it's as if he's getting retraumatized every time we change his socks.


Has anyone else been through something similar? DS is pretty sensitive so I can see how this could happen, and I can only assume (or hope) that eventually he will forget about this or get past it. Is there anything we can do to help him?? Whenever he freaks out we always comfort him and reassure him it's all better now and that all "owies" get better. Is this something I need to worry about or should I just be patient and eventually it'll go away...???


Many thanks and sorry this was kinda long...

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#2 of 6 Old 04-21-2012, 03:17 PM
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I'll be curious to see what others think, but my first instinct is that this will eventually just go away and the trauma of having this hangnail taken off will eventually fade as new things come up.  18 month old DD is also really sensitive, and we have dealt with a similar reaction to the pediatrician.  I know it's typical for young kids to be scared of the doctor, but after the first several visits resulting in getting shots, she would absolutely freak out whenever we had to go -whether it was for a shot or not.  She wouldn't even let us put her on the table, the crinkle paper would set her off, and taking off her clothes to be put on the scale?!  OMG, she would scream and cry hysterically, arching her back and straight up refused to be weighed until we finally said, the heck with it, skip the scale.  Even when sitting in our laps, she would swat at the doctor and sob if they made even the slightest move towards her.


I was concerned that this would go on forever, but eventually, with a little time, and a few visits without shots, she got over her fear. Granted, the next time she needs a vaccination, we'll probably start all over again, but I think this is normal.  They get scared so easily when things are happening that they don't have full control over.  I'm sure with a little time, and maybe some very gentle reminding that his toe is all better now, that DS will start to feel better.

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#3 of 6 Old 04-21-2012, 11:46 PM - Thread Starter
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DS is similarly upset by doctor visits, and he's only gotten two shots. He was (not seriously) ill on and off all winter so he's been like 10 times in the last year! He freaks out as if he's being murdered for stuff like her looking into his ears or trying to measure his head. We actually have his next well visit on Tuesday, which includes his last shot, and I am already worried. I hope I can stay calm and centered through it all, because I suspect it's not going to be easy! I'm trying to prepare him by talking about it before hand ~he gets this worried look on his face and says "no" when I tell him about it. I tell him the shot is only a quick pinch and then over. I am also planning to let him choose a new matchbox car afterwards so he has something to look forward to. I also want to get a play doctor's kit to help work through those fears in play (I have heard that can really help).....but yeah I hear ya on the doctor visit trauma.

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#4 of 6 Old 04-22-2012, 03:07 PM
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I would bet it's the toddler concrete thinking.  Did you take his sock off right before the traumatic hangnail cutting incident?  (Even if you didn't, you put the sock on and it may have felt better on.  I often prefer to wear a sock when I have a cut on my foot.)  In his mind, the two events are probably connected - "taking the sock off is going to hurt me."  I think this type of thing goes away with time because with time they get more information and then learn that their first assessment was incorrect.  But for them the stakes are high to get it "right" because avoiding pain is a pretty compelling motive.


DD has a similar thing about bandaids.  If she gets a cut, and you suggest a band aid, she just flips and runs away screaming, "No bandaid, no bandaid!!!!"  I think she thinks that bandaids actually cause the pain that she feels from her injury.  (So, I just don't bother.  She's had some pretty gnarly cuts too but they all healed up fine.)


One thing that has helped DD with some of her injuries is I tell her a story about how I or her father or another grown up she likes, had once had a similar accident or injury, and how it got better.  It seems to really comfort her to know that other people get "owies" and get better.  Or a story of an animal with a hurt paw and how a little boy helped the animal, and the animal felt better.  Something pretty simple that could serve as a "mirror"... you know?


I wonder if you have a doll with a sock and a pair of nail clippers.  Maybe you can leave them around so he can play with them.


"Magic" also works, although it might depend on his language skills.  At this point I tend not to think of doing "magic" as lying because of the concrete thinking... more as metaphoric speech that operates on the same wavelength as toddler thoughts do.  I think that around 24mo the magic has to be really concrete and visible, probably glittery ointment and a rhyme, some handwaving, etc, but if you think he'd go for invisible magic socks the color of the rainbow, so much the better.....  :)  And I would bet it doesn't work right away, but after doing the magic for a few days he might feel much better.

DD1 6/2009 DD2 5/1/2013-5/5/2013 (HIE) DS 3/2014
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#5 of 6 Old 04-23-2012, 11:52 PM
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We had something similar happen with our 19-month old scraping his knee - he tripped at the park and really scraped it up, lots of blood, and it didn't heal right away.  We put bacitracin and bandaids on it for almost a week, and for the next six weeks or so he was constantly touching his knee and saying "knee" and sometimes "ow?" as if he wasn't sure, especially when he was on the potty (I imagine since that's when we would usually change the bandaid).  It's been almost 2 months, and he still occasionally will pull out "knee ow!" or "knee hurt" when he's in the middle of a meltdown at bedtime - he runs through his entire repertoire of memories, from singing us the alphabet song to naming every person/dog he knows to counting to asking to potty to asking for a he also tosses in "knee!  knee!" with a desperate look.  I think yes, he was somewhat traumatized by it, and yes it hurt, but that it also will fade away - if he's able to manipulate it so well and see its usefulness, even as a sympathy ploy, he's got enough distance that it's not going to haunt him permanently. =)

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#6 of 6 Old 04-27-2012, 04:12 PM
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Sorry in a rush and didn't have time to read all the responses. Let him clip your toenail with fake clippers and yell noooo in a playful manner and run away. Eventually let him do it and then DEMAND a bandaid. If you are doing it right he'll be giggling. It is a power thing. Let him have it. Be vulnerable and play act like you are afraid. He has discovered his vulnerability and would be comforted by finding it in someone else. Find the right balance so he isn't frightened of your emotion but be just convincing enough to trigger a bit of his. Then talk about it. Talk a lot. It sounds like he needs to process it.

If something upsets my daughter this is how we do it. I got the idea from Playful Parenting.

SAHM to DD born 12/09 
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