Words Can Help Heal

When children get hurt, they get scared. But with a few words, you can not only calm your child’s fears, but even help her start healing, says Judith Prager, Ph.D., author of the new book Verbal First Aid: Help Your Kids Heal from Fear and Pain--and Come Out Strong (Berkley Trade, 2010).

Verbal First AidOnce upon a time, people needed to run away a lot – often from the large and dangerous animals they hunted for food. To this day, when we’re hurt or scared, our bodies start pumping chemicals like adrenalin and cortisol that are designed to help us escape. If you’re confronted by a saber-toothed tiger, they’re great, “but they’re not good for healing,” Prager explains.

Her technique uses calming language to change the body’s reaction, and the chemicals that the body is pumping, so that healing can start more quickly. Here’s what to do when your child is in distress due to an injury or accident:

1. Center yourself.
Before you engage your child, take a deep, calming breath. “It allows you to think clearly,” Prager says. “When you go to the child, make sure you’re not reflecting their fear.”

2. Let the child know that you’re going to help. “I’m right here,” is often enough to help someone calm down. If your child has injured herself and you’re away from a doctor’s office, tell her that you know she needs help and that you’re going to take care of it. Then start taking normal first-aid measures.

3. Give healing suggestions. If your child has a nosebleed, ask her to imagine a faucet that she can turn off to stop it. When a neighbor boy fell out of a tree and broke his arm, Prager asked him to imagine his hero, Spider Man, wrapping it in his webs to help it heal. You could also ask your child to imagine a time in the near future when this hurt will be healed and things will be normal again.

Prager believes that healing suggestions can work in much the same way as the “placebo effect,” where people begin to heal with nothing more than a sugar pill and a suggestion from the doctor that the pill will help.

“What we imagine sends a message to our bodies,” she says, and children are really susceptible. “They have wonderful imaginations. So all you have to do is engage the imagination.”

Prager also has a new book out for children, Owie-Cadabra's Verbal First Aid for Kids: A somewhat magical way to help heal yourself and your friends. Find out more at

Related: Getting Your Child Through Doctor's Appointments

– Christina Elston