Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Buzzfeed and Parents: A Child's Panic is NOT Funny

I always hate when I see these videos or photos that make fun of "overdramatic" kids who clearly are either panicking or over their threshold of being able to function because they just don't understand or can not handle what is going on around them.

I just saw this video of Buzzfeed called: Little Girl Deserves An Oscar For Her Performance While Getting a Flu Shot. In the video, a young girl, maybe eight to ten years old, is getting a flu shot. Unfortunately before the shot, her brother told her "It's worse than you think - way worse," and the girl then has a panic attack. The post comes complete with video and then captioned .gif's of the girl's terrified face with comments underneath such as: "Someone get this girl an agent."

I am a parent, I get the absurd humor that comes when you child is freaking out over something that is not a big deal, and we accidentally laugh. However, I have seriously tried to keep my accidental laughter or my judgement that my son's reaction is not valid to myself. It's real and valid to him, and I can either shame him and make fun of him, or, help him work through it so he knows how to deal with fear, frustration, anger, and overwhelm on his own in the future. This is an important life skill.

In the video, the little girl actually is actively trying to keep it together. She does not fight off the nurse, she is saying "Yeah, yeah, ok," indicating that she understands that she needs the shot. At one point she even says "I just can't help myself!" She follows the advice to press a button to distract herself (good idea from the nurse), but she is clearly still panicking. She is "laugh/crying," which some people think means the person is fine. It does not! Laugh/crying is a response to fear or stress. She is trying her hardest to get through a triggering situation yet everyone in the room is laughing at her. Then her parents and the world post it on the internet and joke that she is "dramatic," as if her visceral response is unwarranted and invalid. Tell the next adult who starts jumping around and screaming because of spider on the floor that their reaction is dramatic and not valid.

As the nurse is putting the bandaid on the girl's arm, you can see her shaking her head "yes," trying to get it together while at the same time her eyes roll back in her head and she looks like she might faint. If you know people who faint while getting blood drawn or for other reasons, you know that they don't just decide "Hey, I want to be dramatic, I shall faint, right now." Then, if you look at the screen shots of the video, the look on the girls face is sheer panic and terror, which I do not think is funny, at all. She's not acting.

I am hoping that this girl's parents also talked to her about the amazing amount of bravery she showed in getting this shot and trying to manage a terrifying situation. She cooperates, she tries to distract and sooth herself, and she even thanks the nurse at the end. She does all the right things that will help her foster the ability to handle panic in the future, as long as she is not shamed for it and is taught that she needs to hide it and that fear is not normal.

When we make fun of children for being scared or overwhelmed, we teach them that such reactions are to be hidden and not dealt with, which means they never learn coping mechanisms. This can contribute to developing a panic disorder in the future for many people. It also teaches kids to not have empathy for other people. Sure, some of us have inappropriate responses to accidents, like laughing, but people with empathy catch their response and then comfort and help the other person. If we continually laugh at and invalidate a child who is panicking, then they learn that when they have a friend or family member who is scared, that they should make fun of them as well, which does not help the situation diffuse and does not foster healing. It fosters an inability to emotional connect with others, which can lead to violence and oppression.

I am not saying that we all will have perfect responses to kids, or adults, when they panic or something bad happens. Part of human nature is often inappropriate responses due to trauma and surprise. What I am saying is that we should not promote making fun of other people's fear, it is very shaming and makes people feel bad about themselves and their emotions.

P.S. My husband pointed out the question: why was the mother filming this? What prompted her to start filming? Why would you randomly film your kids getting flu shots?


Rev. Katie

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