Every family has accidents and injuries. Big families tend to have greater numbers of accidents, due to the simple and obvious fact that they have a greater number of people. Our family is no exception.
But sometimes the number of urgent care visits becomes ridiculous. When I’ve made more than one trip per day, or gone twice in one week for the same kid, something needs to be done.
This past year we had a particularly rough season. There was a large gash on the head that required about ten stitches, a broken ankle, and several smaller things that I’ve apparently blocked from my memory. Seems that every time the kids went out to play, someone was getting hurt.
This had to stop!
Often, the accidents resulted from carelessness or just plain stupidity. We lectured, pleaded, instructed, made rules, enforced rules, yelled, prayed, etc. The kids just would not use reasonable caution, or learn to effectively calculate risk.*
Somehow, out of my frustration, I came up with an idea.
I’m not even sure how the idea came to be. Don thinks he mentioned something in passing about OSHA standards. I can’t remember. All I know is that one day, after yet another injury, I looked at a small chalkboard in my kitchen and decided.
I grabbed my chalk and wrote a big 0 (ZERO), and labeled the board “Accident Free Days”.
For weeks, it seems, we were stuck in the single digits, frequently returning to zero. It was discouraging.
But about 6-8 weeks in, something changed. The kids did NOT want to go back to zero, so they started being more careful — willingly. We moved into double digits.
When we hit 30 days, we decided it was time for a celebration. A whole month accident free! Amazing. We went to In-N-Out Burger to celebrate.
As with any method that we employ to train or teach our children, there is always a period of refinement as we discover unintended consequences. First, we had to define “accident”, because we have some future lawyers in the family who sometimes didn’t want to admit we needed to go back to zero days…. We came to define accident as any incident that requires medical attention significantly above the Band-Aid level, or that is likely to leave a mark or bruise lasting more than a few days. If they cry and carry on, it is clearly more serious, and requires us to go back to zero.
Soon, we discovered an unintended consequence, which turned out to be a huge blessing.
A seemingly unrelated problem was driving us crazy: certain of our children, drama queens that they are, would overly exaggerate the (minor) injuries they received, in a ploy for extra sympathy, or perhaps in an attempt to get a sibling in trouble. When this particular child (OK, I admit it’s one child in particular) learned that this would take us back to zero, we had almost no more complaining and carrying on. There was the self-interest in keeping the whole family on track, and also the peer pressure of knowing that if you are the one to deliberately take the family back to zero, you might feel some heat from irritated siblings.
This brings me to the next adjustment we had to make: How to handle the one child (developmentally delayed) who got ANGRY at the child who was injured, or even if he THOUGHT a sibling was injured. He so did not want to go to zero that he created a huge problem.
We decided this: If a child gets injured, everyone needs to respond to the hurting child with love and care, and make sure his needs are taken care of. IF one does NOT respond properly, they miss out on the next “reward” time that comes, regardless of whether we go back to zero or not.
It’s a little unconventional, but it’s working for us. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box for creative solutions to the problems you face as a family. No matter what the size.
As of today, we’re at 119 accident-free days. 🙂
*Just to be clear: We don’t want our children to be paralyzed by fear, and afraid to take risks — very few worthwhile activities are completely risk-free. We want them to learn to make wise decisions based on a careful evaluation of the risks and benefits associated with the choices they are considering.