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The Competent Parent: Grandma’s Broken Leg


Welcome to our online series on parenting advice with our expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Grandma’s Broken Leg

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Help!  My mother, who usually watches my three-year-old, Casey, fell yesterday which resulted in a trip to the emergency room.  She has a fractured leg.  Not that I expect answers for my child care situation (luckily I get some personal days off), but my daughter is full of questions about what happened to Grandma.

I try to be as honest as I can with her, but I don’t want her to worry unnecessarily. Last night she was very fretful at bedtime and ended up in our bed for the night.  What sort of behavior should be normal for her under the circumstances?

Mommy on Duty


Dear Mommy on Duty,

Your daughter is very concrete in her thinking and needs to know she is safe.  You are right to be honest with her – but remember to choose your words carefully and watch for her remaining unanswered questions.  It is usual for a three-year-old to ask the same questions until she is satisfied with an understandable answer.  So much to learn when you’re three.  For example:

Safety first.

Casey needs to know that accidents happen – but not all the time.  Review the reason for the fall with her.  Your explanation will take into account what Grandma could and could not do to prevent the fall.  If a safety adjustment needs to be made – for example, a loose rug secured – Casey could be part of the fix.  If Grandma got dizzy, give a simple medical explanation – whether it was low blood sugar or a reaction to a prescription – and have Casey experience dizziness herself by spinning around a few times.  She’ll see how “feeling dizzy” feels so she’ll know that it was an unusual event – not how Grandma usually feels.  Casey may be more apprehensive than usual for a while as she rebuilds her trust in the world, which includes her caregivers, the furniture, and the force of gravity.

Bones can break.

Help Casey find the bones in her own body.  You can’t see them, but you can feel most of them.  If you have one of Grandma’s x-rays (or can find a picture in a book or online) you can show Casey what a fracture looks like.  If you just say “Grandma’s leg is broken,” your daughter may visualize an actual break – such that a part of Grandma is now unattached to her body.

Community helpers.

No doubt Grandma was assisted by other adults to get the help she needed.  Casey may have learned about 911, EMT’s, and perhaps she met (or will meet) a couple of hospital workers.  All of these roles can be reviewed for the part they played in Grandma’s emergency.  Props and simple costumes can further assist Casey’s understanding of how various jobs work.  You can help her re-play the scenes she was part of simply with a phone (a thumb and pinky will do), a “stretcher” (improvise with a towel and two sticks big enough for one of her dolls), and whatever pretend hospital equipment fill out the story.  She should already have some understanding of the health field from her own visits to the pediatrician, so include her background experience in your dramatic play so she can relate to medical roles from both an emergency and a preventive standpoint.

Families pull together.

During Grandma’s recovery – typically six weeks – Casey’s daily routine is apt to be different than she’s used to.  Try to keep her schedule.  Keep her preschool or other activities going with carpooling or other creative means.  Try not to use this off from work to spend relaxing days at home (unless that’s what Grandma did), because Casey may have trouble adjusting back when the time comes.  Remind her daily that Grandma will be back on duty as soon as her bone has healed enough.

And of course, if Grandma needs a little help from you during her incapacitation, Casey can be included.

While Grandma heals.

Grandma’s recuperation is an ideal time for Casey to see what loved ones do when someone is out of commission due to illness or injury.  Record Casey singing a song for Grandma.  Make cards to send to her.  Call with a cheering message.  As Red Riding Hood did, prepare a basket of goodies full of love for Grandma.  If she’s up for a visit (and if she’s your child’s child care provider, she probably misses her terribly!) make it short and sweet, and explain that Grandma needs some rest.

By the way, Anne Arundel Medical Center is having an open house Saturday, April 9 to showcase the new pediatric emergency wing.  Great time for every family to learn how medical emergencies work!


Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis.  She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at www.drdebbiewood.com

Do you have a parenting question for Dr. Debbie? Email us! editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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