How to Talk to Your Child About Their Illness
Talking to your child about their illness is certainly a touchy subject. It can be difficult to know what to say, what not to say and even how to act around your child. You want to protect them, but you know you can’t leave them fully in the dark. Discussions obviously depend upon the age of the child, and the unique emotional, cognitive and social makeup of the child, but here are some tips for how to talk to children about their illness in general.
Tips for How to Talk to Your Child About Their Illness:
- Determine what is best to be said for you individual child and situation. Consider what the implications will be for the amount of information that you disclose to a child about his or her illness. For example, if their disease is terminal, consider whether or not you should tell them that. Sometimes it is best to not add to their distress by letting the child know they are dying. Having said that, it is important to remember that children are like little sponges, absorbing everything around them, and that includes the emotions of their parents. They pick up on the feelings and emotions of their parents, so it is often best to communicate openly with children because they will sense how you are feeling any way.
- The way you feel about your child’s illness is often how your child will feel about it. You need to find within yourself the right combination of strength, compassion, acceptance and hope. Try not to be too black and white about anything.
- Open up communication between yourself and your child. Make sure he or she knows that they can confide in you with any questions or feelings they aren’t sure how to handle. Be strong, compassionate and emotionally available for your child so that he or she feels safe in that respect. If there are things you won’t talk about or ways that you are trying to hide your emotions, for example, a child might not feel comfortable talking with you if they think doing so will make you uncomfortable. Focus on ensuring that your child’s emotional needs are always met.
- Don’t make promises and do not lie, but do be hopeful. Withholding certain information can sometimes be a good idea, but each case is different. Express your faith in his or her doctors and their treatments. Don’t dwell on the negative, and try to help your child focus on the potential positive outcomes without misleading him or her.
- Always explain how your child’s treatment plan will affect him or her. This is one area in which leaving out information is not advised. When a child knows what to expect, he or she can find the strength within to handle it instead of being blindsided with surprise and fear.
- Don’t labor on what is wrong; celebrate what is right. It’s easy to fall into self-pity and a constant state of complaining, but that will never do any good. Instead, help your child feel empowered by noticing their achievements, no matter how small.
- Consider reading and watching movies with your child about people who have overcome illness. Don’t put pressure on your child to do the same. Simply watching and hearing about situations like that, however, can be inspiring. We all know that the right attitude can overcome many obstacles, including sickness. Hearing about real life cases like this can help a child think more positively, be stronger and realize that their thoughts do make a difference. Just make sure to not pressure your child into trying to be one of those inspiring cases. Let it come naturally from within them as they learn to think more positively.
- Open up other forms of communication for your child. Depending on his or her age, remember that your child may find it easier to talk to peers, medical professionals or people going through the same issues. Provide them with the opportunities to talk to whomever they need. Look into support groups, appropriate chat rooms, therapists, etc.
- Give your child something to focus on outside of their illness. An illness can be all consuming, and rightfully so, but when you can focus on a cause or people outside of yourself and your illness, you spirit gets renewed. We all need inspiration and there is nothing more inspiring than helping others. Get your child involved in a cause that they can help out with in some way. Helping others can be very healing for the mind, body and soul.
- Make time for fun! A child’s illness is anything but fun, however fun is necessary for your child, you and your whole family. Make sure you find ways to have fun as a family and help your child remain socially involved with their friends. Laughter, smiling, fun and happiness are the best medicine.
- Use respite care. Don’t feel guilty about needing a break every now and then. Oftentimes, a break is the best thing you can do for your child because it allows you to recharge and come back refreshed with a renewed sense of strength. Respite care is home care that is provided on a short-term, as needed basis by trained caregivers and/or medical professionals. It allows you to leave your child in hands that you can trust while ensuring you don’t get burned out.
Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net, David Castillo Dominici