How injury can help children build their resilience
While my mind thinks I’m still 26, my body is certainly telling me I’m not. There’s more than a few miles on this chassis, hence why I’ve had both knees resurfaced. This entailed two six-weeks stints of non-weight bearing on crutches, no driving etc..
As a single Dad this was hard and meant that for the first few weeks I couldn’t safely have my children over night. The hassle of daily living, cooking cleaning, working and trying to stay active on your own paled compared to not having the children.
At least I had the knowledge and experience to stay positive and not affect my mental state.
But how can children cope with such an event?
I was to find out first hand recently when my own son, William, 10, found himself on crutches with a crippling condition and facing the possibility of an indefinite healing time frame.
Will recently suffered his second bout of Sever’s disease. It’s a common cause of heel pain in children, when the muscles and tendons of the hamstrings and calves stretch and tighten in response to growth spurts. Sadly, he got it in both feet so was finding it painful to move around.
The worst came when just as he was begging to heal (no pun intended) he rolled his ankle and you could be forgiven he stepped on a mine. After a few more days, he still couldn’t bear any part of his foot being touched.
A trip to the orthopaedic consultant and MRI confirming a diagnosis of complex regional pain syndrome (CPRS). CRPS is a poorly understood condition in which a person experiences persistent severe and debilitating pain.
Although most cases of CRPS are triggered by an injury, the resulting pain is much more severe and long-lasting than normal.
The skin of the affected body part can become so sensitive that just a slight touch, bump or even a change in temperature can provoke intense pain. Many cases of CRPS gradually improve to some degree over time, or get completely better. However, some cases of CRPS never go away, and the affected person will experience pain for many years.
This was not good. And so, in October last year he began over two months on crutches. Every school break time he was either sat in class or on the side-lines, watching his friends run around. Out too went his Saturday morning football, he was the star goalie, bike rides, long walks and cricket practice. At first it was too painful for him to even swim.
The best way to overcome the pain with this is to push through it. To get the body and brain to realise the pain signals are wrong and thus try and re-set them.
So began an intensive period of physiotherapy and mental exercises.
Here’s some of the things we did on the mental game during this period.
Think three positives
Every day we’d ask him to tell us three things that had gone well and more if he could think of them. We’d encourage him to elaborate on them. This is an exercise in Cognitive Behavioural Modification. The goal was to help Will look for the positives, the little wins and achievements, to keep him with a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.
Heroes and heroines
Will is very much into his football, so we’d talk about which of his favourite players had overcome injury and what they might have done to do that. We talked about it was as important to be as dedicated to their exercises as it was to playing. This helped when he really didn’t want to do them, because he’s 10 and they hurt.
What would you say to a friend?
We’d ask him what would he tell his best friend to do if it was him that was injured. This an NLP technique called perceptual positons and help the person look at a negative situation from a different perspective than their own.
Finally, we’d get him to visualise what it would be like to be fully fit and hearing around the playground and football field with his mates. Visualisation can play an important part on keeping young ones focussed on what they do want and not letting them slip into seeing themselves as they are now. Injured.
They have the most amazing imaginations, so guide their daydreams and use to great effect. It’s brilliant to help them utilise that skill and develop it for adult life.
I’m delighted to say we are making great progress, he’s off the crutches and walking with a slight limp. Football is still a few weeks away, but given some people can suffer with this indefinitely I’ll take that every day of the week.
I’m most proud by his attitude and a great metaphor he came up with by himself on how to look at injury.
You can watch what he has to say on this short video.
In closing, injury can be just as trying a time for a child as an adult, by spending a little time with them and showing them a few tools and techniques you can help build their resilience for life. It’s one of the many reasons why I love children being active and getting into sports and physical activities.
Anthony Taylor is a mental skills and employability coach. He works with people and organisations to develop their peak performance and potential. He is passionate about children, he has four, and giving them the mental skills to thrive in this modern world. He writes regularly on this topic and more. You can follow him on LinkedIn or twitter @AntTaylor72