Part of growing up and learning to move inevitably involves falling down. Unfortunately, sometimes this includes gaining a cut or breaking a bone. Traumas such as physical injuries and emotional distress exist in baby’s life from birth on. Verbal First Aid teaches parents how to attend to one’s baby or child in the way that minimizes the fear and distress of the trauma experience and promotes quick healing. It is about what we say and how we say it.
Written by Judith Simon Prager and Judith Acosta, both trained in the field of psychotherapy, the book is written from an intimate knowledge of the topic. The authors trained doctors, nurses, firefighters, and other emergency first responders in the USA, England, and China. Prager also worked with crisis counselors in Bejing after the May 2008 magnitude 8.0 earthquake that tragically flattened schools.
Much of the book is devoted to toddler and early childhood traumas such as falling off a bike, fear of spiders, nightmares, getting stitches, and asthma attacks. The few pages that focus on infancy are extremely important and every mother should read them. They clearly teach that what you feel in your nervous system the baby will feel in theirs. Words, even when not understood by the baby, convey emotion. So, if you feel panic, he will feel panic. If you feel alarm, he will feel alarm. If you feel calm and centered, he will feel calm too.
Techniques for responding to distress are covered in detail. The multitude of stories presented assist parents in understanding how to apply these techniques immediately and creatively! My personal favorite is the story of a toddler who awoke from a nightmare extremely distressed because the grinch was chasing him through the streets of New York City. His mother reminded him that he knew his address and could tell it to any cab driver who would drive him home to safety. When the child protested, “But, the Grinch (was chasing me)!” The mother simply said, “But, sweetheart, grinches don’t ride in taxis. Have you ever seen a grinch in a taxi?” The child smiled and realized his mother was right…and he would be safe in his dreams.
Verbal First Aid: Help Your Kids Heal from Fear and Pain-and Come Out Strong: by Judith Simon Prager, Ph.D., and Judith Acosta, LISW, CMT., : (New York: Penguin, 2010).