Can I Hug A Stranger's Child If They're Injured?

When is it okay to comfort ... and not just creepy?

My kids are addicted to danger. They love to play on high-up wobbly things and sharp, rocky things and things that spin or bounce. Sore arms and wet socks are proof that an activity was fun! I know it’s good for children to take risks; you’re not supposed to keep them wrapped in cotton wool. But risky behaviour worries me, because little daredevils can go from I’m-fine to I-can-see-my-own-bone before you can shout, “That’s not a very good ide—”.

One place that always makes me anxious is my local skate park. This post-apocalyptic concrete arena, covered with bad graffiti and reckless teenagers, is surely every mother’s nightmare. Which is probably why most mothers avoid it. But as my kids aren’t old enough to hang out unsupervised, I have to be there with them. While they scoot about I stand nervously on the perimeter. You could say that I’m on edge, on the edge.

Last time I was at the skate park there actually was an accident, although my kids (surprisingly) were not involved. I missed the stack – I was busy watching my son attempt some kind of trick – but it must have been spectacular because there was quite a bit of commotion afterwards. “Excuse me,” a teenage boy shouted in my direction, "can we borrow your phone? He needs to ring his dad.”

He pointed at a blonde kid sitting, hunched, nearby.

I pushed my way through the crowd. I was expecting a 14 or 15 year old but this kid was probably only 11. Maybe even 10. “What happened?” I asked. The spokesman pointed to a concrete block in the centre of the skate bowl. “He face-planted onto that. Lucky he was wearing a helmet, eh.”

The face-planter had bloody nostrils and a fat lip. I sat down beside him. “Did you bang your nose?” I asked. He nodded. “Anything else?” He showed me his right pinky, which was red and swollen. “I think my finger might be broken.”

No actual nose. Image: Getty

When my kids have accidents, the first thing I do is panic. Then I pull myself together and check for the three Bs: bleeding, breathing and broken. I also say, “What’s two times five?” and “Who’s the prime minister?” to rule out concussion. (That prime minister question doesn’t always work – what eight-year-old can keep up with Australia’s political flux?) If I’m satisfied that I’m dealing with a minor injury, all I have to do is supply four things: an ice pack, a Band-Aid, a kiss and a hug.

This is usually an effective process, but it gets a bit tricky if the kid in question isn’t mine.

Even though the injured skater wasn’t crying, hearing him speak to his dad made me realise how vulnerable and upset he was feeling. He was clearly in pain. After he hung up I felt like putting my arm around him. Because that’s what I would have done if he’d been my son. I would have pushed his hair off his sweaty face and pressed my cheek onto his and held his (non-injured) hand. But he wasn’t my son, so I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I offered him a tissue and stayed with him until his dad arrived.

A similar thing happened last week. I was walking my kids home from school when we came across a boy who’d fallen off his bike. He’d grazed his hands and knees. I knelt beside him and asked him if he’d like a Band-Aid. He nodded. “I can call your mum or dad if you like,” I said. He seemed happy to hear that. Then he said, “Do you know my mum’s number?” In the end, all I could do is watch as he rode off and hope that he made it safely to his destination.

Later, I recounted this story to a friend. “He was only about seven, but I was too nervous to hug him!” I said. “I even made him apply his own Band-Aids!” She was surprised and maybe slightly appalled. “I would have put him in my car and driven him home,” she said.

Image: Getty

I can’t figure out if I’m uncaring or overly cautious. I like to think it’s the latter. I just find it hard to work out what’s okay and what’s not. I’m always patting my own children – especially if they’re injured – but I can’t bring myself to offer affection to other people’s. If only this issue was clear cut, black and white. I guess it’s more like that concrete skate park: a grey area.