This past Sunday I joined the half million people that flocked to the banks of the Ohio River to mark the end of summer and celebrate Labor Day with the WEBN Fireworks. As I contemplated my next Euchre move, I caught a glimpse of a small boy navigating his way between the blankets sprawled across the lawn, juggling his plastic nacho tray. My first thought was how little he was to be juggling his snack unassisted, and then I looked at his face. The quivering lip confirmed the “I’m lost!” look in his eyes. I jumped up to help him, speaking loud enough for the strangers nearby to hear me.
“Are you lost?”
Confirmed with a nod.
“Let’s walk over here and look for your mommy.”
We walked over to a booth with a good view of the lawn. The last thing I needed was someone to think I was kidnapping this child! As we stared into the blazing sun he told me his mother’s name and that she was sitting on a Bengals blanket. I encouraged him that his mother was looking for him and that she would find him if we stayed in one place and waited for a “helper”: a police officer. I asked the vendor at the booth to notify an officer about a lost child. After several minutes of small talk the little boy was calm and chatting easily with me, that is until three giant uniformed men with very deep voices walked up behind us.
“IS THIS THE LOST CHILD?”
Even before I was able to respond, the little boy burst into tears. I quickly explained about the Bengals blanket in hopes that they could begin the search but they had orders and they were not allowed to leave their equipment. They were actually paramedics and were the first responders to the “emergency.” I realized they did not know the simplicity of the situation, but I really felt that an understanding of how a small child could be feeling in this situation would have helped this fragile little boy. I am not sure of the training that paramedics receive on child development, but if this hulking man could have put himself into the child’s shoes perhaps he would have realized how terrifying he was to an already frightened little boy.
What do I think could have been done differently? I think that the paramedic could have initiated the meeting with a more calming voice, and as soon as he knew this was “the lost child” he could have gotten down to the child’s eye level so as to not appear so scary. Speaking to a child at eye level, rather than looming over him, is a form of nonverbal body language that tells the child that you accept him. Getting lost was not this child’s fault, and feeling like he was “in trouble” made this bad situation worse.
The story ends happily: the Bengals blanket was found, and mother and child were reunited. Looking at the world through a child’s eyes might help all of us to be a bit kinder and gentler toward one another.