How to Teach Your Kid Effective Communication

I’ve got one kid who’s more susceptible to the stomach flu than the others. I promise you, if it’s going around, and often even if it’s not, this kid will get it at least twice. Often three times. And repeat every other month or so just so he doesn’t forget how. But the good news is, he processes it in less than 24 hours. Every time. So, silver lining!

The problem with kids, of course, is they suck at communication. I mean, it’s not their fault they suck at communication; it’s just they don’t yet have the experience or vocabulary to give us grown-ups all the information we need. For example, Stomach Flu Kid? Yeah. For the past two years, every single vomitty episode is the same.

  1. Cael goes pale.
  2. Cael complains of headache.
  3. Cael harfs buckets.

And he’s not the kid of mine who always makes it to an appropriate vomit-receptacle, either. Nope; this is the kid who ralphs without warning, but with great enthusiasm, and we never, ever – ever – get the bucket to him in time, because he never, ever – ever – tells us when it’s coming.  

So I’ve spent years with this kid – two straight years at least – trying to help him with his stomach flu communication. Trying to help him understand that the headache isn’t a headache… that’s called nausea, or, if that word’s too hard to remember when you’re sick, then it’s called “I FEEL LIKE I’M GOING TO THROW UP, MOM.” 

But no luck. Just none. Because TERRIBLE COMMUNICATION, I tell you. This kid can talk you under the table about Minecraft or insect anatomy or why 7-year-olds should be allowed to have driver’s licenses, but he cannotno matter what, identify nausea. 

And guess what?

Cael had the stomach flu three times last week. Woohoo! Twice at home and once at school. Three times lucky, friends. And every time was the same. 

Pale.

Then, “Mom, my head hurts.”

Then me, “That’s called nausea, Cael. Do you feel like you’re going to throw up?”

Then him, “I have a headache.”

Then me, “Can you say nausea? Nausea. You feel nauseated. Do you need a bucket?”

And him, “I have a heada…”…aaannd… puke cascading everywhere.

Every. Where. All of the Places. Like PlayDoh or glitter or those teeny, tiny LEGO pieces, impossible to contain once released into the wild.

And I swear I didn’t chide him for barfing. I didn’t. I wiped him up with someone’s t-shirt and undies, helpfully abandoned in the hallway near-by, and I said as I carried him to my bed to rest, “Oh, sweetie. Honey. That was nausea.” 

And he looked at me, droopy-eyed and exhausted, and said, “I had a headache.”

Which is when it occurred to me that he might be having… wait for it… headaches.

Because it also occurred to me that I get migraines.

And my mom gets migraines.

And my symptoms are primarily headache followed by the sudden onset of nausea / vomitting. Without, you know, a build-up of nausea as a precursor. 

Years. Years this kid has been telling me he has headaches.

Years. Years I’ve been telling him he’s wrong.

So I took Cael to the doctor yesterday to talk about his penchant for the stomach flu. And the doctor listened to his symptoms and diagnosed him with migraines. 

So… that was great.

And here’s my awesome advice on How to Teach Kids Effective Communication:

SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO THEM, Beth. Geez.

OK? OK.

I’m glad we had this chat.

P.S. Obviously, I have Parent of the Year in the bag, but if you have a similar I Rock Parenting story, I’m not opposed to having some company here on the awards stage. **ahem**

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
24 comments
  1. My oldest child was always the last to be ready to go to church on Sunday. Actually he was always last to be ready for anything and last to get anything done. We thought he was either lazy or just being stubborn and didn’t want to go wherever we were going. We chided him for being so slow and eventually took to affectionately calling him Glacier Boy because a glacier could move faster than he did. We tried incentives and then punishment to try to get him to get ready on time. We finally told him that if he wasn’t ready when it was time to leave we were taking him in whatever condition he was in – still in just his undies; hair uncombed; no shoes on his feet, too bad, we’re leaving.
    So one Sunday morning when it was time to leave and he didn’t have his shoes on yet we told him we were leaving and to get in the car. He ran back to his bedroom to get his shoes so he could put them on in the car. We walked out the door and he was terrified we were going to leave him at home alone so he ran as fast as he could down the hall, tripped and tore his knee open on the AC air return vent cover that was in the floor of the hallway. Instead of going to church we went to the ER to get him stitched up. I felt horrible enough about that. But that wasn’t guilt enough! When he was not yet 19 and flunked out of college and couldn’t hold a job no matter how hard he tried because he couldn’t keep up with the work, our pastor suggested we have him tested for disabilities. The testing showed that he has a learning disability and can’t process verbal information the way most people can. So all those years when we just thought he was lazy, he was baffled and confused. It’s been eleven years since his diagnosis and I still cry over how many times we punished him for “laziness” when he was in reality helplessly confused. Yep! I’m thinking Mother of the Decade for that one.
    (Thankfully once we had a diagnosis we have been able to work out a system to help him cope with his disability so that he can do a better job at processing information that he is given. He has had a part-time job that he loves for the past 10 years and is working with a job coach right now to try to move into a different field so that he can find a full-time job and get off of disability assistance.)

  2. When my youngest was three, she had issues with doors. She couldn’t seem to walk through a doorway. I figured that she really is my daughter (clumsiness is hereditary, right?) and put her into ballet classes. Her coordination did improve, but just slightly. After about a year of this, she started trying to read. She put her book against her face. I thought she was being silly (she was also hanging upside down on the couch). Then it dawned on me. We went to the eye doctor and got her a cute pair of VERY THICK glasses. She stopped having any door problems. DUH! On the upside, she is a great dancer now (she is almost 17). We laugh about it together now. On a side note, yesterday she did hit herself with the car door…. maybe I wasn’t entirely wrong 🙂

  3. Poor you, poor him. This migraine clinic (OK, so London might be a teensy bit far to travel for help) were amazing. Helped me manage my migraines and debilitating tension headaches away with better attention to hydration and blood sugar levels. Anyway, they do have lots of information on their website including a fact sheet about migraine and children. May supplement the knowledge you already have and add a few more ideas.

    http://www.migraineclinic.org.uk/about-headaches/fact-sheet/

  4. You’re the freakin best. My friend went through this EXACT scenario recently, they told her that her child most likely has CVS. I was like- he has a drugstore? Anyway, boy I hear ya. wtf I never know what’s going on with my poor kid. I’m staring at him and throwing out guesses like it’s Jeopardy and he’s looking at me like… well probably trying to diagnose MY mental issues.

  5. Thank you Beth-I really needed to read this today. I entered both mother of the year and wife of the year in the same day today. Thanks for letting me know I may have competition in one of those contests…

  6. Oh Beth! Even before I got to the migraine part I thought, “Sounds familiar – sounds like abdominal migraines.” I have a daughter who had a run it with migraines early in middle school. Nothing too bad – manageable. Then, at 16 she got the “stomach bug.” No vomiting, but really sever nausea. Home from school a couple of days. Then the next month it happened again – because she is the Queen of “If it can go wrong it will go wrong” I figured, just her luck. But then the episodes became closer together, longer in nature, until she was missing weeks of school. We were chasing down ever possible lead – to no avail. Then, one day I was searching the internet and came across abdominal migraines – essentially the migraine manifested itself (symptomatically) in her stomach. A trip to a pediatric neurologist (this after countless trips to the ER for treatment) and wam-bam, thank you ma’am – a diagnosis of abdominal migraines. Bingo! Medication and treatment plan in hand we traveled off into the sunset. Now, she gets good old fashioned migraines – but what a trial that affair was! I’m glad you’ve been able to get help for your kiddo!

  7. In a beautiful coincidence, one of my 7th grade students turned in a narrative today that fits in well with these stories. He was out with his family when he was about five, and as a special treat, they let him order a coke. He thought it tasted bad, but his stepdad was all, “I bought you the damn coke, stop complaining and drink it.” His mom finally got tired of his whining and took a sip to prove how yummy it was. She got a funny look on her face and took a sip of her own drink to compare. Turns out the kid had her rum and coke, and she had his coke. And of course, he still remembers it and probably brings it up all the time.

  8. We were fortunate to have a very verbal 4 year old who told us her head hurt. My sister in law, who is a day care provider and has two children of her own, said it’s unusual for children to get headaches. Then we started to realize her occasional vomiting often happened within an hour of saying her head hurts. We finally thought to give her ibuprofen when she said her head hurt, just like I would do if I had a headache. We noticed if we didn’t give her the ibuprofen within 30-45 minutes of when she first said her head hurt then it would be “too late” and then vomiting and complete wipe out requiring laying down for several hours would commence. If we gave ibuprofen right away the headache went away in about 20 minutes and then all was fine. After about 6 months of observing and recording all this we finally went to a neurologist. Yep, she has migraines. My husband’s family has a history of them so it was easy for the doctor to diagnose. Much harder for someone closer to the situation such as us parents. I know we kept thinking her head hurt because she was dehydrated, over tired, or needed to eat. Guess what? Those are migraine triggers!

  9. I’m sitting here shaking I’m laughing so hard (silently, because I’m at work, yo!). Except it’s not really funny because migraines are the absolute worst. I’m so sorry Cael. But hahahahahahahaha, I love you Beth.

  10. Thank goodness you finally figured it out! Kids are so tricky. My daughter gets stomach virus symptoms because of her anxiety so I ask the school to just not immediately send her home because getting to avoid the anxiety producing situation actually makes the anxiety worse long term. Unfortunately it’s really hard for them or even me to believe throwing up is really just an anxiety symptom and of course every once in a while you’ll be wrong so she frequently gets sent home for what was really anxiety not a contagious illness. I always have my answer though when as we are walking to the car the color returns to her face and on the way home she says, “wow I feel a lot better now”. Yeah, car rides don’t make people with a stomach virus feel better but getting away from school and alone time with mommy do greatly reduce anxiety.
    She also missed days of school because of terrible continuous loud coughing us assuming she was contagious but oddly she didn’t seem to feel bad like you would normally if you were hacking up a lung. Eventually figured out that she had a vocal tic – now at least I can tell the difference between the coughing tic and respiratory illness coughing – they do sound different but again hard to explain.

  11. Cael is MY PEOPLE on the barfing front. Please high five him for me and tell him his aim and prediction skills really really will get better some day but in the meantime, he’s building up a GREAT supply of stories! And then ask him to invent a more appropriate airplane puke bag because, really people?

  12. When my daughter was 3, she tripped over her baby brother crawling behind her. Her arm hit the door jam and she cried and cried even though we could see nothing wrong. We kissed her boo boo, decided she was overtired and put her down for a nap. Afterwards she was fine. Except, for two days whenever she tried to push up from the floor, she whimpered as she put weight on that arm. It hit me as I watched her that day that maybe I should take her for an xray. Umm yeah, mom of the year let her baby girl walk around with a broken arm for two days. And had put her bed because she was crying! I win!

  13. My daughter is nine and at age seven was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD…as a consequence she has always been clumsy.I remember one summer when she was about five we went to the supermarket everyday of their summer holidays and on the way out as a reward for good behaviour I bought an ice cream cone for her and my son.Everyday she dropped her icecream on the floor of the shop……EVERYDAY…..and I scolded her because….I don’t even know why,because she dropped it everyday,it was hot,I had two small children and was exhausted….and she dropped the thing everyday!!!
    One day we got to the car without dropping it,it was a mini miracle,I couldn’t believe it…..and then on her way into the car….splat.I got the red mist and couldn’t control my rage….I shouted at her…..why can’t you just hold onto it….aaggghhhh!!!Well,young lady,you can hole onto it until we get home,I am not getting out of the car to wipe you.So I made her hold the thing in her hands on the five minute drive home and as she got out I held my hands to hold it so she could climb out and instantly got a pain in my hands from the sheer freezing coldness of it.I nearly vomited with the shame….I had made my precious baby hold a freezing cold icecream…..in her little hands….I think that it was my absolute worst parenting moment ever,even now as I type the tears are rolling!In my defence….if there can be one,I never for a second even thought that it was cold,I couldn’t because my mind was so full of the rage!
    I apologised and hugged her and said that it didn’t matter if she dropped the icecream tomorrow,or if she spilled her slushy,which was the other treat she sometimes chose,it didn’t matter…..it would never matter again,I would never again get cross with her if she spilled or dropped anything ever again…and guess what….she didn’t ever drop it after that day:-)

  14. Wow, I don’t get them often, but I will definitely be on the alert for my kids then. Yikes. 🙁
    Hope you can find some treatment that helps him!

  15. Two years ago my son was at camp, and got kicked in arm playing soccer. He said it hurt a little, but was fine..Later he kept saying it hurt more. Long day so I assumed he was just trying to get out of brushing his teeth, and told him to quit whining. Two hours later, he’s still complaining and my mom finally talked me into taking him to the ER just to get it checked out. Yep, it was broken. Yay me! =(

  16. Several years ago, I watched my daughter going into the MRI machine and prayed that she didn’t have a concussion… Then the medical assistant happened to ask about migraines… and I learned that if one parent has migraines, the child has a 50% chance of migraines… if both parents have migraines, it goes up to 75%! We had a tough few years, but she is now learning to manage them. Good luck!

  17. many years ago when my now 8 yr old was 9 months she fell off a golf cart and broke her collar bone. every day, i had to put her arm in a sling then wrap her up like a mummy with an ace bandage to keep her from using it. she wasn’t walking and i had to carry her often although she did get very good at scooting on her butt. i also had a 21 month old and was 5 months pregnant with my third. one day she was driving me crazy being so grumpy and miserable, crying for me then wailing more when i picked her up. i had no nerves left by the time i was ‘unwrapping’ her many hours later. and then i discovered that when i had wrapped her that morning, her thumb, and basically her entire tiny hand, had been bent backwards the entire time. best.mom.ever. i’m pretty sure i snuggled her and cried for hours afterwards at the extra pain i put her through.

  18. My youngest preemie was being kind of fussy and high-needs in that particular WAY children of about a year’s age can be, right?

    And I logicked him. I remember clearly thinking through that I had just fed him, had just changed him, and he wasn’t acting tired, so clearly he was JUST WHINING FOR NO REASON and this was SO ANNOYING because I was trying to take a cute picture of him that I had all planned out in my head.

    And then…

    Then I noticed that the edge of his bodysuit was suddenly all wet. Like, the very edge. I picked him up and peeked under the wet edge, and saw penis.

    I stripped him down as fast as I could, realizing that I must have, when I had “just changed him”, trapped the tip of his penis in the edge of the diaper cover. Hence his “irrational”, “annoying” displeasure with the state of his life.

    Mother of the Freaking Year Award right here, yo.

  19. It took us actual literal years to understand that my daughters awful GI trouble with pain, cramping, and soiling accidents, was brought on by gluten. (Before it was cool, man.) The first week after taking her off gluten, her swollen, bloated belly went down 3 INCHES around her waist. She was 9. The thing that made me feel the worst, though, was hearing her coo “Mommy, my belly doesn’t hurt when I eat this gluten free cereal!” Dude, her belly was hurting at EVERY MEAL. I didn’t know.

    And guess what? My 9 year old son now complains of bellyache after he eats Cheerios. And today I finally said “Let’s just have some of your sister’s cereal today”. What do you know? NO PAIN. Augh.

    1. I feel that pain Kelly. My oldest had the weirdest rash on his finger tips for 2 years that would NOT go away and could only be maintained with every day, twice a day, thick lotion or it would crack and bleed.
      Then we discovered gluten allergy. And what do you know, he stopped having to sprint to the bathroom in the middle of meals.
      Yup, felt great about that one too. 🙁

  20. Before my son could talk (yes, he was a late talker), he came crying to me with a big goose egg on his head. I picked him up to comfort him and shamelessly asked “oh, what happened?” Whereupon Mr Concrete thinker wrestled out of my arms, led me to the scene of the crime, crying and babbling the whole time. He pointed to a corner of the door, and then pulled his head back and WHAM! Cracked that goose egg clean open requiring a trip to the ER.

    Poor Kid, he was just answering my question. But I won hands down mother of the year that year.

  21. Have you ever noticed these vomiting events might be associated with anxiety? My girlfriend’s son, same age, was having the same complaints and constant headaches followed by vomiting. Neurologist diagnosed him with anxiety. Looking back all of his events coincided with being over anxious. They have also tested him for passengers and autism.

  22. Lol, as I was reading what you were describing, I was thinking “He’s really having headaches!” and then I got to the end of the post. I hope you can find an effective treatment for him.

  23. I have a child who gets migraines too. Thankfully instead of projectile vomiting she gets the ‘flashy lights’ first, just like mom.

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