Injury and Disappointed 13 Year Old

Updated on October 15, 2019
Z.B. asks from Toledo, OH
13 answers

My son recently fell during Cross Country practice and dislocated his elbow. He has to sit out the remainder of the season, cannot tryout for basketball, cannot play the guitar.

I want to let him wallow a bit, but I also want him to see all that he can do. I did try a little bit (reminded him that he can still play his sax and that he can run Cross Country again in 8th grade (and probably qualify for Sectionals again), but he wasn't ready to hear it at all. Or at least not from me.

What can I do to help him through this disappointment?

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So What Happened?

Michelle S - I just have to say you are so brave and so strong! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my question and answer it in the wonderful, compassionate way you did. You had every right to call me petty, and I appreciate the fact that you treated me so nicely. I wish you all the best as you continue this very challenging journey.

Wild Woman - My son's doctor is very concerned that our son could further injure his arm and has specifically said no to running. We don't want do any permanent damage.

Thank you all so much for your perspective. My son is actually handling it very well - much better than I expected. He cheered on his team over the weekend and is already talking about traveling with them to their next meet.

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answers from San Francisco on

There's not really any "help" you can give him. What happened sucks. He knows that. You know that. Trying to cheer him up is probably just going to make things worse because it will most likely annoy him. Let him feel his disappointment and process it. Unless he has some emotional issues he'll move on soon enough. These kinds of things happen all the time.

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answers from Boston on

I think it's okay, at 13, to let kids start to figure things out a bit on their own. This is a recent injury, and it's tough to deal with all the adjustments. My son was a XC runner and I know how devastated he was when he got mono during his senior year. It took him a bit - and he was looking at not getting college applications in because he was too exhausted to complete them, the essays, etc. There could have been huge repercussions.

Your son may also be a little embarrassed. I know, and you know, that runners fall all the time and it's not a sign that they aren't athletic. I've seen kids get sick too, when they don't yet know what they can eat before a meet. It's something they have to get used to. And he's probably in pain a bit too. It's hard to shower, to sleep, and more.

And don't forget that teen hormones are kicking in, and that moodiness is likely going to be a part of your family for a few years!

So I don't think you have to buy into it in the sense of sitting with him and participating in the misery, but you can let him deal with it. Disappointments happen, not everything in life works out great, he's going to have off days as a runner, a student and a human. They don't define us - and he needs to learn that. Let him know you have confidence in him and his ability to figure it out and get used to things. You can encourage him to talk to his coach and see what sort of a workout program he can do in the meantime. For example, he might be able to safely do leg presses and stretches and other things to keep his legs strong and limber. Maybe you could call the coach (on the sly, if your son won't do it himself) and see if he will approach your son with some suggestions. Knowing his coach has hopes for your son's eventual return to running (spring track, maybe?) might be enough to kick your son into gear. Maybe he can participate in other ways - help with stopwatches, encourage other runners, learn the specifics behind different muscle groups and oxygen use, whatever the coach is teaching the rest of the team.

Obviously, if this goes on for a long time or you see signs of great concern, you should look at having him talk to a counselor. But maybe he'll kind of get bored with his self-pity and snap out of it, at which point you can give him credit for doing an adult-like thing and seeing the big picture.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Pity parties are short lived in our house. You get a day or so to wallow and then? It's life. You pick up and learn something new.

There are many things he CAN do. He just has to WANT to do it. If he wants to wallow in his pity? Then he will get no where. I would tell him you like the same place you're in? Great. Stay there. We're moving forward. You coming with us or staying in your pity party?

he can play chess.
he can do many things. He is the only one limiting himself.

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answers from Washington DC on


My oldest broke his collar bone playing LaCrosse. It took 8 weeks to recover and he couldn't play while he was recovering. However, he did attend practices. He did use his left arm and build his skills with his left arm.

In regards to running? Why can't they brace his arm and allow him to run? I see people running with braces all the time. I realize he won't be running on level ground, but he can still do things. He's NOT an invalid. I wouldn't treat him like one either.

If he starts pouting and saying "I can't" ask him - well WHAT CAN YOU DO?? Stop giving him ideas. Let his brain work this and allow HIM to figure out what HE CAN DO.

Good luck!

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answers from Washington DC on

We had a life changing event when my son was 8 yrs old. After the major shock wore off a little, my son and I added something to his bedtime routine. Every night we would each come up with one good thing that came out of it. Some were little things and some were pretty major. For example, “Mrs. So and So brought us our favorite meal tonight or how awesome that an anonymous person offered to pay for the last 4 years of grade school. People out there really care about us. Aren’t we lucky!” Some nights were harder than others, but that was ok. We would help each other out, and he would go to bed on a positive note. Sometimes we still do this when we need a little reset.

Maybe this might work for you guys.

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answers from Washington DC on

honestly, i'd try to focus LESS on 'helping him through.' i don't mean that to sound unsupportive— of course we want to help our kids handle this sort of thing! but a middle-schooler is ready to start figuring out his own coping strategies, with you as his support staff, as opposed to offering him solutions.

i really like your approach of understanding that a bit of wallowing is normal, and he also needs to see that everything in his life hasn't come to a screeching halt.

this is a great time for mirroring his feelings ('you sound bored and frustrated, kiddo') and inviting him to think through the next step ('i wonder if there are hands-free workouts to keep an athlete primed to take up the sport again after recovery?' or muse about the instructional vids on youtube about guitar theory that could fill the space until he can pick it up.)

actually, even those are pretty leading. if he's especially grouchy, you might need to be even more elliptical. mention a friend going through something and your struggle to help. or a problem you had as a teen, wondering how you could have handled it better. sometimes just a crack in the door is all a kid needs to jumpstart the process.

a lot depends on his personality. as a teen, my older was pretty sunny and optimistic. he loved to talk through issues, sometimes to the point that it made me want to flee. my younger tended more toward dark funks and self-pity. he taught me that the best thing i could was to bake a batch of brownies, and kiss him on top of the head or give him an occasional squeeze to remind him that i was there, and leave him to it.


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answers from Portland on

When we've had setbacks - surgeries, illness, medical conditions, etc. and had to give things up either temporarily here, or permanently - what helps us is to find something new we can do, to keep our minds off what we can no longer do.

Sometimes it's a project - sometimes it's a whole new sport or activity. Sometimes it's getting together with friends, to keep our mind off things. A lot of those things may have been just the social aspect (or accomplishing things) .. and he might find those same elements in other things.

For a kid, he might feel left out. On our sports teams, kids often come to games or practices, or are team managers, or co-captains .. something, and come to cheer the team on - even though they are not on the team. That kind of thing.

He might take up a new club? Maybe check out what his friends are doing that don't involve sports? Maybe sell it as "this is time for trying ... even if you don't love it, give it a go."

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answers from New York on

Our son broke his elbow 3rd game into the football season one year (I believe he was 14 that year). It put him out of football for the rest of the season, out of wrestling for the entire season and limited his track and field for the entire season (not only did he break it, it was a bad break, froze up in the cast, months and months of PT - ugh).

We still had (started out we "made" him and then he just did it on his own) him go to every football, wrestling and track/field practice and game. He had to help the coach, cheer on his team members, be "water boy," whatever. It wasn't punishment, it was to help him understand and appreciate those who didn't get to play, those who sat on the bench much of the year, those who volunteered to help the team, to build his team spirit, and to foster the importance of understanding just how lucky he was that he was so athletically talented (he was - scouts looked at him for all 3 sports and he went to state every year since 7th grade for all 3 sports other than the year he broke his elbow). Our son learned a very valuable lesson about all the things it takes to make a team - a lot more than just one or two star players :)

This is a teachable moment - don't let it slip away.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Nothing you can really do other than what has been suggested in the responses below. It's kinda life. You win some, you lose some.

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answers from Tyler on

You will have to be super stealthy to help him through this without showing your cards. If he thinks you are trying to "help", he will resist. There will be downtime when he would normally be taking part in the activities he can't participate in while he recovers, you have be super sneaky in working in something constructive that he believe is totally his idea during these times. I loved the idea of increasing his lower extremity workouts. Which of these activities is his favorite? Find a book written by someone in that field that overcame injury and learn how they busied themselves through recovery. Do not suggest this to your son, he will know what you are doing and resent you. In the big scheme of things, this is a minor setback. He will be okay!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

I don't have a lot of patience for anyone who wants to throw a constant self pity party.
Life is full of disappointments.
Granted the first major one is a bit of a blow.
A little time to mourn the change in plans the injury caused to go off track but a few days should be enough.
He should learn to count his blessings, and think about how things could have been worse.

A son of a friend of mine was lined up for a soccer scholarship when he had an accident during a game and badly injured his foot and ankle.
He needed several surgeries and lengthy physical therapy just to be able to walk normally.
He'll never play soccer again - golf is his sport now.

Give him his few days - commiserate with him - and then encourage him to think of other opportunities that are available to him now that he won't be tied up in sports this year.

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answers from Tampa on

my boys have been playing hockey since 5 years or or so( now they are 13 and 12) . we have seen many kids burn out, get concussions or get injured and so on. In the beginning it was discussed if they get a serious injury there will be other sports or other activities they can do.

He is out for a little bit not out completely.

I am the type of person to tell my son to suck it up ( my oldest had a hairline fracture in his hand-wasn’t watching where he was skating). Obviously after the pain was gone.

He is 13 years maybe that’s his way of dealing with things. Leave it alone. He knows his options. Go on with your and his daily life. If and when he is ready he will come to you.

He will be fine.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I just want to say that I hope your son bounces back quickly. We had a very similar event last spring (7th grader broke a bone in the 3rd practice of the season in middle school baseball). He was beside himself with disappointment when the x-ray came back with the break. It was hard for him, but we followed the doctor's orders to the letter and thank goodness kids heal quickly.

As parents, when he expressed frustration, we acknowledged that he was upset and that we understood why he was upset. But also didn't linger on it.

My son also made the choice to go to all the practices and games, even though he couldn't play. He could still do leg work in the gym, he could still throw (the break was on his catching hand), and at the games, he kept the scorebook. I think that staying with the team helped him, because the social aspect of being part of the team is also important. The cross country season is almost over, but your son might also think about ways he might still be part of the team for the last few meets, if there are any. Or, is there a way to be involved with the basketball team even if he can't play (if he's part of the team as a manager, once his arm heals, he might be able to join in at the practices with his teammates, even though he won't play in games).

Good luck.

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