One morning last week, AE enjoyed some Cheerios as I was doing my workout. When she finished, she began playing with some toys next to my mat.

All of the sudden she was holding her right arm, wincing in pain. “Owie on my arm,” she cried. I tried to look at it, but she wouldn’t let me.

I watched her continue brace her arm as she played for the next 15 minutes. It was strange; I didn’t see her fall or bump it, but she was clearly in pain.

Before long, the pain seemed to subside and she was using her arm again. Until about an hour later when she started crying again, out of no where.

Now I was really concerned. Was this some kind of cramp? Do toddler’s get cramps? Maybe it’s something really scary. What would cause her to have pain in her arm when there was no trauma or injury to speak of?

In full-on freak out mode, I pulled her close and insisted she let me examine her arm. As I tried to bend and straighten the elbow, tears began to flow down her sweet cheeks. As thoughts of terrible diseases tumbled through my head, I rolled up her sleeve to look at the skin.

I couldn’t help but begin to laugh when I discovered a few broken Cheerios lodged near her elbow inside the tight long sleeve of her shirt. My anxiety melted as I removed the “sharp” objects and asked if her arm felt better. “All better, Mama,” she said as she bent and straightened her arm.

I was instantly reminded of a medical aphorism I learned while doing my yoga therapy training. “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras.” In other words, assume you are dealing with the most commonly encountered scenario first.

When a yoga student comes to me and says he suffers from regular headaches, I ask questions about his neck and shoulder tension or caffeine intake long before I even consider asking if he’s seen a neurologist or had a MRI.

But, when it comes to AE, my default seems to be to think zebras. It happens with medical issues, but I also do it with behavioral matters.

She struggles with sharing one morning in gym class, and I start to fear that she’ll never want to share with her little brother.

She has a bad night of sleep, and I assume we are entering a prolonged phase of less sleep.

She ignores me when I ask her to do something, and I worry she will never listen to me.

More often than not, this “thinking zebras” practice of mine causes me to make mountains out of molehills. I don’t like the things I say or the way I relate to my daughter when I’m assuming the worst case scenario. 

When I take a moment to pause, to focus on only the present moment, I’m a more compassion and loving mother. When I think horses instead of zebras, I quiet the emotional reactivity that so often gets me into trouble, and I become a parent that can stay cool, even when life gets hot.

What about you? Do you hear hoofbeats and assume it’s zebras too? I’d love to hear!

This article has 6 comments

  1. Evie Reply

    Yes, I can absolutely relate to this! Especially with my boys, at every rough patch I imagine that this will be the new “normal” rather than what it usually is, an isolate incident or passing phase. Strangely, I usually think I handle medical emergencies pretty well… I’m calm in the moment at least, though I also don’t hesitate to call the dr’s office and ask their advice.

  2. Derek Hoffman Reply

    The business side of me sees this happen daily with the media (specifically when it comes to the state of the economy). The love of sensationalism brings eyeballs to their outlets, so the tiniest of blips on the radar tend to ignite fear in consumers.

  3. Amy G Reply

    This is so true! I’d never heard that saying before, but I love it! My “disaster” of the day was that my LO would not sleep- I couldn’t figure it out and feared she might never sleep again! But, about an hour later, she pooped. And then slept.

  4. marilyn terzian Reply

    Jen,So many of us can totally relate to this.As we progress through the beginning of this life we think nothing will ever happen to us or our loved ones. As we move on, our life becomes richer, with so many to love dearly. The more we love, the more we have to lose.And by this time how many of us have been blindsided by a very sad event. It makes us a little fearful and quick to jump to the worst scenario! I’ll think of those hoofbeats next time and listen for them!

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