I Didn't Hurt My Son: The Humiliation of Defending Myself to the Social Worker

by Kathleen Gemmell September 07, 2016

“Jay, please stop jumping on the couch. You might fall and hurt yourself. Do it again and you’ll need a time-out.”

Five minutes later, as I stirred my homemade sauce, I heard the crash and the wail. Blood gushed from a head wound and Jay was inconsolable. “I’m sorry, no time-out! I didn’t mean to!” he cried.

After inspecting the split, I knew that we needed to head to the E.R. for stitches. Four going on five years old, Jay sobbed the entire way and I'll admit that I could have been more consoling. “Sometimes I know what I’m talking about, hon,” I stated. “That couch is hard wood, with cushions to sit on. It is not a trampoline.”

As the physician used 6 staples to pull the cut together, he seemed a tad concerned that Jay repeatedly cried out, “I’m sorry, don’t punish me!”

As we waited to be discharged, a professionally dressed woman entered our cubicle. “My name is Blah-Blah and I’m a pediatric social worker."

My heart pounded and I felt nauseous – I knew what was coming. “The doctor is concerned that your son’s injury may not have been an accident, and I need to talk to you both.

“Jay, do you know the difference between a lie and the truth?” she asked.

Jay’s hysteria returned. “Don’t punish me!” he screamed. (Of late, he seemed obsessed with not having time-outs, and my husband and I had been discussing alternate consequences.)

“You need to tell me the truth, Jay,” Miss Blah-Blah continued. “How did you hurt your head?”

Jay’s answer was garbled – his sobbing and hiccuping made his words unintelligible.

“Miss Blah-Blah, we have a wooden frame couch with cushions. Jay was jumping on it, was warned to stop and, needless to say, he fell,” I stated with obvious panic.

“I’m going to get a nurse and she and I will need to speak to Jay alone.” Miss Blah-Blah had a sour look on her face and my uncontrollable tears began.

“I did not hurt my son. He has never been hit. We use a time-out as his behavioral consequence. I’m upset that you are giving this credence. He is hysterical because he doesn’t want a time-out, not for any other reason. Jay, you need to calm down and tell this lady what happened. You will not have a time-out, hon.”

The nurse arrived and I was seated in the waiting room. Pre-cell phone days found me scrounging to find change for the pay phone. Through tears, I told my husband what had happened and insisted he leave work and come to us immediately.

Before Keith arrived, the nurse came to take me back to my son. Miss Blah-Blah said, “I’m going to get Dr. So-and-So to talk to you. Children are upset in these circumstances, but not to this extent. I also notice bruising on his arms and legs."

“He’s a little boy,” I practically shouted, trying to contain myself. "He plays and gets the occasional bruise. Please call our pediatrician who can straighten this out. I never hurt my son.”

Keith arrived in his business suit and quickly took control. Holding the now sleeping Jay in my arms, I repeated my statement.

Keith told Dr. So-and-So about Jay’s unusually sensitive reaction to time outs. Dr. So-and-So seemed to be listening and finally dismissed us.

I was in a state for several days after that incident. I realize that our children must be protected, yet this case seemed extreme.

Keith and I decided that Jay would draw a picture of his negative behavior as his future consequences. We would follow that up by discussing the picture.

Jay never did jump on the furniture again, but to be safe we replaced the blood-stained, wooden couch with the cushiest one we could find.

And for weeks, I held my son each night as he drifted off to sleep.

Kathleen Gemmell


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