Monday, March 22, 2010

Tips to Help Your Child With Bad News

  • Parents often feel like they need to have all the right answers for their children. That theory is blown away when the parent must share information that is heart wrenching. When the news is about the child, the parent remains in some control and may choose to share the information about a diagnosis or treatment plan in small snippets.

But what if the information is bad and it is about the parent rather than the child? How does a parent go about telling a child about an illness or other bad news when the parent knows it will break a child's heart? Here are a couple of tips to consider when sharing information with your child about your own health.

1. Be honest and age appropriate. A teen can digest more information at one time than a 5 year old. Information given on a need to know basis must be honest and timely. For instance,don't wait to the last minute to tell a child you are in a terminal state. A child should be part of the diagnosis and treatment process as their age allows and as your treatment plan changes.

2. Be frank about what your treatments will involve, what the child can expect from you, and what they can do to help. Do not make your child responsible for your care, but let them know what symptoms you may experience during treatment so the child is not so frightened. Suggest things the child might do to help you, like keeping their room clean, making a snack, or playing quietly from time to time when you are not feeling your best.

3. Understand that your illness will be heartbreaking for your child, but that children may not show their true feelings the same way you do. Children will go on and play, be with friends, and often act out in anger and or other behaviors because they do not feel in control of what is happening. Avoid reacting in anger towards your child, but attempt to have open and honest conversations. Let your child know that no matter what the future holds, your love for them will never change.

4. Allow your child or teen some choices about what directly involves them. Maybe they can choose whether to spend the night at a friend's home or a grandparent's home for one of the nights if you are hospitalized. Maybe they can decide if they want to miss a practice or game rather than you telling them what to do. Allow them to set the tone for hospital visits as well, and avoid being hurt if your child chooses to stay away for a time. Remember children process things differently than an adult, and may not always be able to handle the hospital atmosphere.

5. Never lie to a child if the diagnosis is serious. You can have honest conversations about outcomes without being morbid. Always point out the brighter side of things as well as the more serious side, but never promise that everything will be fine especially if you don't know. It is better to help the child or teen work on coping skills for the time when things might get tough.

It is always always difficult to tell your child you have been diagnosed with a serious illness. When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, our children were 5, 10, and 12. It was a very tearful and heart wrenching time but we were honest and gave them the information in small amounts. The children knew when we had doctor's appointments, they knew the day of surgery and they attended school with a grandparent waiting for them after school, and they knew when radiation treatments started. We talked about the side effects of the treatment that they would visually be seeing and we talked about the prognosis with a hopeful spin.

Above all, the children knew that they were loved and that as a family we would handle what came next with the faith and strength God would give us. It was a very hard time, but we made it through. With these tips, you take things one day at a time and love, always love.

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