What to Do When Your Kid Gets Hurt

Bumps and bruises are inevitable. How parents react is key.

Iva-Marie Palmer

| 5 min read

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If you’re signing your child up for sports for the first time, there’s something you should know: There will be blood.

OK, perhaps not blood — but falls, bruises, elbows to faces, kicks to shins and maybe a fastball to the back.

The time-honored sports wisdom is this: Rub some dirt on it.

That is to say, tend to the wound – and then get back on the field. That’s what Daniel Spalding, a flag football coach in Mesa, Arizona, and winner of MOJO’s My Coach Rocks contest, tells parents every season.

Spalding speaks as a coach but also a parent. His son, Draven, started playing flag football at age 6, and is now 10. Spalding remembers the first time Draven went down, when he crashed into another kid playing flag football. “They both went down and my son cut his knee,” he says. After washing off the blood, Spalding encouraged Draven to take the field again.

Says Spalding, “He was back out there as soon as there was a break in the game play.”

The response matters

While parents might be inclined to pull their child out of a game to soothe them on the sidelines, or rush the field, Spalding says that might do more harm than good. 

“If you freak out, your child will mimic that,” he says.

Of course, if something is seriously twisted, broken or out of place, it’s a different story. You’ll need medical help. But for everyday bumps and bruises, says Spalding, parents should remain calm — and stay put. “The quicker you prepare yourself for that, the easier it will be,” he says.

What to say when a kid gets hurt

Less is more. A pat on the back and a Way to be tough out there! will be better than Oh, my poor baby. You want to get them past the fall, says Spalding, before they dwell on it and make it bigger in their mind.

Often, they’re not as hurt as they think they are,” he says. “It’s more of a mental thing.”

A wait-and-see approach can also work.

Spalding remembers the first time he got the wind knocked out of him, in a karate class. “I got hit in the stomach and it immediately doubled me over,” he explains. He could barely breathe. His two karate instructors watched from afar — and didn’t intervene. When his breath returned, his instructors told him to get back out there. He realized then that he could deal with the everyday blows – and he’d be fine.

What coaches can tell parents

Spalding recommends coaches get parents ready for the realities of the season well in advance – ideally, during the first parent meeting.

“We start off explaining what to expect – from coaches of other teams to the refs – and we talk about injuries,” he says. “No matter what sport it is, kids will fall down and get hurt.”

It’s about getting parents on the same page so that they’re not rushing onto the field if their child takes a hard knock.

“I relate it to the rest of life,” he adds. Kids will fall down and get hurt on the playground, and getting back up is a crucial life lesson. “When their child is at school and someone picks on them, or they get hurt on the playground, you’re not there to hold and coddle them.”

The right way to fall

Coaches can also work on how players can fall better.

Ideally, kids hurt in flag football or a similar game shouldn’t land abruptly. You want to be curled, in some way, so you can roll into a fall, Braswell explains. “The biggest mistake is trying to catch yourself with your hands.” 

Kids can be shown how to fall backward, forward, sideways (onto a shoulder). And technique is different in different sports. In baseball, for example, kids learn how to tilt their bodies to take a bad pitch in the back instead of their front.

The advantages of toughing it out

Like Spalding’s near knock-out in karate class, the first time a kid goes down is usually the worst. Typically, they’re scared. So are parents. But if they return to the field or the game, players and parents alike learn something: That they’re stronger than they know.

 

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