Dr. Erickson describes handling an incident with his son Robert to illustrated how to deal with children in pain. Robert fell down the back stairs, split his lip, and knocked his upper tooth back into the maxilla. He was bleeding and screaming with pain and fright. His parents rushed to him and saw that it was an emergency. Dr. Erickson writes,
“No effort was made to pick him up. Instead, as he paused for breath for fresh screaming, he was told quickly, simply, sympathetically and emphatically, ‘That hurts awful, Robert. That hurts terrible.’
“Right then, without any doubt, my son knew that I knew what I was talking about. He could agree with me and he knew I was agreeing with him completely. Therefore he could listen respectfully to me, because I had demonstrated that I understood the situation fully.”
‘Then I told Robert, ‘And it will keep right on hurting.’ In this simple statement, I named his own fear, confirmed his own judgment of the situation, demonstrated my good intelligent grasp of the entire matter and my entire agreement with him, since right then he could foresee a lifetime of anguish and pain for himself.
“The next step for him and for me was to declare, as he took another breath, ‘And you really wish it would stop hurting.’ Again, we were in full agreement and he was ratified and even encouraged in this wish. And it was his wish, deriving entirely from within him and constituting his own urgent need.
‘With the situation so defined, I could then offer a suggestion with some certainty of its acceptance. This suggestion was, ‘Maybe it will stop hurting in a little while, in just a minute or two.’
“This was a suggestion in full accord with his own needs and wishes and, because it was qualified by ‘maybe it will,’ it was not in contradiction to his own understandings of the situation. Thus he could accept the idea and initiate his response to it.”
Dr. Erickson then shifted to another important matter. As he puts it:
“Robert knew that he hurt, that he was a damaged person; he could see his blood upon the pavement, taste it in his mouth and see it on his hands. And yet, like all other human beings, he too could desire narcissistic distinction in his misfortune, along with the desire even more for narcissistic comfort. Nobody wants a picayune headache: since a headache must be endured, let it be so colossal that only the sufferer could endure it. Human pride is so curiously good and comforting! Therefore, Robert’s attention was doubly directed to two vital issues of comprehensible importance to him by the simple statements, ‘That’s an awful lot of blood on the pavement. Is it good, red, strong blood? Look carefully, Mother, and see. I think it is, but I want you to be sure.’ ”
Examination proved it to be good strong blood, but it was necessary to verify this by examination of it against the white background of the bathroom sink. In this way the boy, who had ceased crying in pain and fright, was cleaned up. When he went to the doctor for stitches the question was whether he would get as many as his sister had once been given. The suturing was done without anesthetic on a boy who was an interested participant in the procedure.