All of us have been there. You are in a hospital reception area, riding public transit, or some other public gathering space. You see a parent telling a young child they are stupid or to shut up or is yanking their arm forcefully. It’s not rising to the level of “child abuse” for reporting purposes, but in your heart you know that those small, daily acts of violence can add up and have a real impact on that child’s development and well-being. You want to intervene for that child but you don’t know how or what would be helpful. Read how one kind word or gesture could help defuse the situation.
The three-year old boy had a low grade fever and runny nose. Mom was sleeping in the corner of the room when I came in and barely awakened when I knocked on the door. Our conversation was short and to the point as I went through my routine “it’s a virus, tincture of time” talk. Leaving the room, the mom asked me for a taxi voucher. She did not want to call Freddie’s father for a ride back. With one more question, easily skipped, I learned that she and the child’s father had been fighting about their son’s cough keeping him awake. Freddie’s father had kicked them out of the house to find a doctor to “fix him or I will fix him, and you.” Turns out that Freddie and his mom were living in a house of fear and uncertainty. We see kids like Freddie each day. Sometimes we can sense that something is off but are afraid to ask that next question. Oftentimes, we cannot see the problem until we ask the right questions. Emergency medical providers may not feel that learning about these issues is their role. The first part of addressing a “chronic illness” is recognizing it. The next time you get “that feeling” see what a few straightforward, respectful questions can reveal.