Helping Children Understand And Cope With A Serious Illness In The Family

When someone in your family is diagnosed with a serious illness, it has an effect on every single family member. Along with the initial shock of learning about the illness, most adults usually experience some level of fear. They may have uncertainty about the future and may need to deal with issues revolving around ongoing care.


Depending on the illness, there are a lot of details that need to be taken care of, ranging from managing insurance paperwork to keeping track of complex medical treatments and procedures. Unfortunately, life doesn't get put on hold when you are dealing with a crisis, which means that you also have to deal with your everyday responsibilities.

One of the hardest parts about confronting a serious illness in a family member is helping children understand what is going on. Talking to them about the illness can seem like an insurmountable task. What approach is best? How can you help them understand?
One of the first reactions that many people have is that they try to hide the illness from their child. Unfortunately, that rarely works out. Kids are more perceptive than we give them credit for. They usually pick up on bits and pieces of conversations, alerting them to the fact that something isn't right. Additionally, if they continually see one of their loved ones being carted off to doctor's appointments or laying in bed sick, it is hard to hide the fact that something is seriously wrong.
By not talking to your child about what is going on, you allow their imaginations to fill in the blanks. This can lead to intense fear and uncertainty. Talking openly with your child about the illness, on the other hand, can help in the following ways:
* The child is more likely to trust adults, believing that they aren't trying to hide things.
* It makes it easier for the child to acknowledge and deal with their feelings.
* It helps them feel like they belong rather than making them feel like an outsider.
* It opens the door for them to ask questions.
* It allows them to contribute in whatever way they can, making them feel more useful and less helpless.
If your child is old enough to listen, you should be able to find a way to discuss the illness with them. The types of topics that you talk about will depend largely upon how mature they are. As children develop, the way that they think about and understand sickness and death can change and evolve.
When deciding how much information and what type of information to share with your child, you need to think about their personality and their maturity level. Don't hesitate to ask for advice, reaching out to everyone from your family doctor to your therapist for input. You may also find the tips below beneficial:
Have A Plan In Place
Don't just jump in and start talking without having a plan. Not only do you need to figure out what you want to say to your child but you also need to think about how best to approach them. For instance, do you want to talk to them early in the day or later in the evening? Where do you want to have the conversation? Do you need to tell them if the person is going into a hospice, will it likely happen soon, will there be physical changes in the person - you need to consider these factors to decide on the best way to approach it. Consider the needs of your child when deciding on the best approach.
Open The Discussion
With children who are especially young, try to avoid going overboard with complicated details. Instead, provide a simple explanation, letting them know that their loved one is sick and that they are going to the doctor a lot to try to make them better. Give your child the time that they need to digest the information. Be willing to answer their questions and support them, no matter how they respond.
Have A Plan In Place
Here is some of the information that you may want to include when you talk to your child, depending on their age and their development level:
* The type of illness
* Whether the illness can be transmitted to other people
* How your home life or environment may change as a result
* How your child can help or support the patient
Providing Your Child With The Support That They Need
Caring for a sick loved one is a full-time job in and of itself. Trying to support your child while at the same time acting as a caretaker can be particularly challenging. Don't get too hung up on the amount of time that you spend with your child. Instead, focus on making the time that you do get with them as special as possible. Spend time talking to them and really being with them when you are together. Give them lots of hugs and let them know how much you love them. Try to help them understand that even though you can't spend as much time with them as you would like, you are still there for them when they need you. These tips may also help:
Realize that children may process their feelings differently than adults. Sometimes, kids don't have the vocabulary to describe the way they are feeling. Instead, they express themselves through changes in their behavior. For instance, they may cling to you or they may have a harder time dealing with everyday situations.
Allow your child to help if they want to. Kids often feel better when they can contribute. For instance, they may be able to make artwork to lift the person's spirits.
Decide whether or not you want to take your child to the hospital with you. This can be a tough call. Sometimes, seeing someone that they love sick in the hospital can be quite devastating. Other times, they may find the experience of seeing their loved one reassuring and comforting.
Try to stick to your regular routine. Abrupt changes can add to the sense of uncertainty and chaos.
Let other adults that your child interacts with know what is going on. People that they spent a lot of time around such as their teachers can benefit from knowing that your child is dealing with a family illness. They may be able to help support your child at school or while they are away from your care. It can also make it easier for them to understand any behavioral changes that occur.
When a family member becomes seriously ill, it is important to help children understand what is going on and to give them the tools that they need to cope. Talking openly about the illness with them can help them deal with the situation in a way that is healthier than bottling up their feelings or wondering what is going on.
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