This is undoubtedly a shocking time in your family's life. All you want to do is protect your child and take all of the bad away.
Unfortunately, parents, as much as they do desperately want it, don't get to have that kind of power. There are, however, some things you can do to keep a sense of normalcy and control:
- Strive to give your child as much information as is developmentally appropriate. Always try to be honest with information about your child's health or medical experience. Children live in a rich fantasy world and can spit quite a dramatic tale based on little pieces of information or bits of overheard conversation.
- If you don't know, say you don't know.
- Listen and validate your child's feelings when he or she has anxiety or fear about a medical procedure or invasive test. Empathize and then work together to come up with coping mechanisms. If you say nothing will happen, when something could happen, your child may begin to doubt your word at a time when your honesty is so crucial.
- Find someone trusted to be with your child and leave the room in those times when you need to cry, vent or express frustration or anger. That doesn't mean it isn't okay to let your child know you are sad because he or she doesn't feel well, is hurting or is sick. You just don't want to fright your child by becoming completely distraught or overwhelmed by emotions.
- Try to adhere to your usual rules and required chores around the house. It is a comfort to children when they see the boundaries of their world haven't changed and they're still expected to act in certain ways, be polite and face consequences of not following rules.
- At the same time, be flexible and ready to adjust these rules when necessary. For example, if you're child had chemo and is too tired to clean his or her room, let him or her know that's okay because this is a special time. It is a task that can be tackled another day.
- Be cognizant when you are talking on the phone that your child could become confused or anxious by hearing only your end of the conversation.
- Take advantage of this challenging period as a time to build your communication skills with your child and develop a better understanding of each other's perspectives.
Contributing source: Kara Hellum, Child Life Specialist, Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center.