When confronting your child’s illness, it can be a harrowing, exhausting and isolating time. You want to be strong for your child. You might be anxious and stressed, having only a limited amount of time, if any, for yourself. “Normal” life is turned upside down. As a result, people frequently lose touch with their inner core, the strong foundation that is their essence.
We’ve searched worldwide to find and learn from leaders in four important disciplines: Mind, Body and Wellness; Counseling; Education and Motivational Coaching. The teachings of these experts will give you the strength and support you need during challenging and difficult times. Soaringwords’ articles and exercises will take only minutes and yet will transform your mindset and increase your overall health. Another benefit of these resources is the positive impact they can have on your entire family circle. These articles can help you identify and express what is important to you, your children and your loved ones and to let go of the things that drain you physically and emotionally.
Please visit us often to read new postings and to watch videos from experts who can provide much needed wisdom and support to help you choose the most positive path.
Dr. Richard Tedeschi, Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina, Charlotte discusses how positive transformation can follow a traumatic event.
When bad things happen, people often feel like it will break them — a serious illness, death of a loved one or an unfortunate event. However, scientific studies show most people recover from major life crises transformed AND even stronger than before.
This phenomenon is called Posttraumatic Growth (PTG). In this Soaringwords video, Lisa chats with Dr. Tedeschi, a leading expert in the field, who discusses how PTG is a process people go through and a place they get to when they come to recognize that they have been transformed.
PTG refers to a positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. Posttraumatic Growth is not simply a return to baseline, the way your life was before the traumatic event. Instead it is an experience of IMPROVEMENT after the traumatic event that may be extremely profound, even life changing.
Dr. Ron Taffel is known as one of the most captivating and practical child-rearing experts in the country. He is the author of two best-selling books, Parenting by Heart: How to be in Charge, Stay Connected and Instill Your Values- When it Feels Like You’ve Got 15 Minutes a Day (Addison Wesley) and Why Parents Disagree: How Women and Men Parent Differently and How We Can Work Together (Morrow). He was a frequent contributor to The Confident Parent, a monthly column that ran in McCalls Magazine from 1991 to 1996. He has also been featured on 20/20, The Today Show, CNN, and hundreds of radio shows. Ron has a private practice in New York City and is the Founder of The Family Therapy Division at The Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. He is married and has two children. In order to care for our children, we have to take time to nurture and protect ourselves. In this article, Dr. Ron Taffel offers success strategies that are easy to implement and are not time consuming. They work immediately and you’ll feel their positive impact.
Pay attention to what you are feeling when with others. Some people make you feel better, others don’t. It is essential to stay around people who have positive attitudes. The reactions you sometimes ignore are actually your best guide. Honor them.
Be direct and tell people what helps and what doesn’t. A crisis is no time to protect others’ feelings. You need protection, not just your children.
Always leave more time to do the business of mourning, healing and dealing than you first think you’ll need. Hard-pressed parents invariably say they underestimated how much time they needed to get through trying life experiences.
Seek out people from the past who were able to take care of you when you were younger. Those who once had the ability to nurture may still be able to make you feel well cared for again. It is very helpful for parents who must take themselves and kids through tough times to occasionally be cared for as if they were young again.
Stick to as many rituals as you possibly can during your everyday life – whether they last for a minute or a few moments. Rituals serve as anchors during chaotic times; they are an expression of faith despite the fact that everything in your family feels totally out of control. You can maintain some semblance of order in your life with rituals.
Allow time to talk to those who are most important to you. Nurture yourself with positive meditations in particular at moments which you are most vulnerable – bedtime, waking up, just before and after eating, sitting alone in waiting rooms, on a crowded highway. These are times when simple meditations and mantras soothe.
Find an “after hours” talking buddy. This is very helpful during the depths of a crisis. The middle of the night, especially towards the morning (the “hour of the wolf” as the time from 3:00 am- 5:00 am has been called) is terribly painful for just about everyone going through a difficult time. Whenever it’s possible, ask for after-hours companionship from the people who love you. Nurturance during this time will help you deal with your kids more effectively the next day.
Try not to take moments of connection for granted with your significant other or your children. Those potential moments of connection are often the ones that get ignored. And then, very quickly, one can feel deprived and alone. Because there’s so much to take care of, it’s easy to pass up possibilities to connect with those who are actually the most available.
Create new rituals – a month, a half-year, or a year after the crisis has happened. These are natural times to nurture yourself by remembering with others who know what you went through.
Dr. Ron Taffel is one of the most eclectic and practical child-rearing experts in the country and the author of two best-selling books, Parenting by Heart: How to be in Charge, Stay Connected and Instill Your Values- When it Feels Like You’ve Got 15 Minutes a Day (Addison Wesley) and Why Parents Disagree: How Women and Men Parent Differently and How We Can Work Together (Morrow). He has also been featured on 20/20, The Today Show, CNN, and hundreds of radio shows.
Solid historical evidence shows that children’s sense of self-esteem, self-worth, mood, and anxiety lifts when given the opportunity to help others. In fact, Freud instructed parents of an anxious and ill child to purchase a dog for the girl. The child moved beyond her fears by focusing on caring for her pet. Since this time, parents and professionals have found, over and over again, that vulnerable or stressed children (and adults) are relieved of burdens when offered the opportunity to care for others. Unfortunately, today’s pop culture promotes the notion that kids just want to consume things. This focus on “stuff” and material acquisition makes us forget that children’s powerful and inate desire to help others is still intact. It is compelling to remember that even children who are clearly suffering will be relieved of their burdens when they can do something to help someone else.
Acts of kindness give children a sense of power at a point when they are feeling the worst sense of powerlessness. The hospital environment isolates children — machines beeping at all hours of the day and night, tubes, procedures, and too much time away from friends. They feel so many negative things inside because “nothing seems to be working right” in their body and they have no control. Doing an act of kindness helps children feel empowered. This feeling is contagious. It makes them feel more in control and more powerful at a difficult time.
Children identify with each other. Doing something positive for another ill child reduces feelings of isolation and despair. From nursery school through college, children are surrounded by their peers. Their self-identity is wrapped up in beliefs, language, trends and behaviors that are shaped and shared in groups. That’s why it is not surprising that the isolation of illness is one of the biggest hardships for hospitalized and chronically ill children. When ill and challenged children reach out and take actions to help others, it gives them an experience that is incalculably positive because it instills a sense of hope. They can immediately see or imagine how this kindness transforms an ill child. Then they feel a sense of possibility and hope, leaving their sadness and isolation behind. The child learns and borrows from this experience allowing them to feel more hopeful and positive in the face of the most difficult circumstances.
When children are ill, adults tend to focus primarily on the treatment of the child’s illness. It is natural that when a child is ill, his or her parents will organize around attending to the child’s needs, treatments, and the alleviation of symptoms and discomfort. Normal routines (enjoying fun activities together, doing homework, eating dinner together, watching TV and relaxing) go by the wayside and the child’s identity can be subsumed by the illness. Another positive consequence when an ill child does kind acts for other ill children is that it gives parents, doctors, nurses and other caregivers the opportunity to acknowledge the child’s true personality as evidenced through creativity, kindness, and compassion. This in turn makes the child feel more positively about themselves and their actions.
Special thanks to our Expert:
Michelle Brauntuch, M.S., CCLS.
Certified Child Life Specialist
Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, Englewood, N.J.
How to Reduce Anxiety
Everyone, even adults, experiences anxiety prior to surgery. For children especially, what they imagine is often more frightening than reality. You can, however, reduce your child’s fears and minimize your own anxiety by preparing your child for what will actually happen during the hospital experience.
You may want to call the Child Life Department or your doctor to see if it is possible to tour the Medical Center before surgery. Visiting a Medical Center for a tour and reading books about going to the hospital give you and your child a way to talk about some of the feelings you both have about the hospital and surgery. Talking together, playing “doctor” or “hospital,” drawing and writing about the upcoming hospital experience are all important ways to help make feelings more manageable. This preparation will help to increase your child’s confidence and ability to cope, as well as reduce any fears.
After the tour, you and your child can plan and rehearse effective coping strategies at home to use on the day of surgery. For example, you can plan to tell your child to hold a Teddy bear or other special toy until you can enter the recovery room.
How to Explain Surgery to a Child
It is important to be as honest as you can with your child about the upcoming surgery. Simple, accurate explanations in developmentally appropriate words are best. To communicate what an operation is, you should tell your child that it is a way for a doctor to fix something inside your body or to take something out of your body that is giving you trouble. For example, you might say: “The doctor is going to help you and take your adenoids out of your body so you don’t keep getting all those ear infections.” If the surgery is to remove something, it is important to tell your child that we are all born with parts of our body that we don’t need, so its okay for the doctor to take it out. Emphasize that life will be fine without it.
Children under age five need to know that they did not do anything wrong. The operation is not a punishment of any kind. Younger children have “magical thinking” and are developmentally egocentric. They think that they are the cause of everything that happens. It is, therefore, important for a child not to feel at fault for needing this operation. It’s just that a part of the body needs help – like people who wear glasses need help for their eyes to see clearly.
When to Tell a Child About the Surgery
When approaching young children from two to six years of age, it is a good idea to tell them about the surgery only a few days prior to the actual date. The younger the child, the less preparation time is needed because a sense of time is not as developed. However, time is needed to play or “act out” the upcoming experience, so a child should be given at least two days notice. Children seven years of age and older need time to think about questions they may have and to work through their feelings. They should be told at least a week before surgery. Always tell your child the truth about what will happen. Listen to your child’s questions and discuss any concerns.
What to Bring to the Hospital
Allow your child to pack special things to take to the hospital, such as favorite toys, books or videos that are familiar and can give comfort. Pack slippers for walking to and from the playroom on the Pediatric Unit. Another important thing to explain to your child is that everyone at the hospital wears special clothes. There are hospital clothes in all different sizes for children and special green clothes called “scrubs” that people who work in the hospital or operating room wear. All these clothes are cleaned a special way to make sure that there are no germs on them.
The Day of Surgery
Can Parents Stay With Their Child?
Parents are encouraged to participate in their child’s hospital experience. You should ask your doctor who can go into the holding room and recovery room. The recovery room is when a favorite stuffed toy or “security” item from home can be helpful for your child until you get there.
What to Say When Your Child Asks if the Operation Will Hurt
Explain to your child the special kind of “sleeping” they will be doing during the operation. An anesthesiologist has the job of giving your child medicine that will help them sleep while their doctor performs the operation. Anesthesia is either in an I.V. for older children or perhaps inhaled through a fruit-flavored mask for younger children. Your child feels no pain during this special kind of sleep.
Explain that the doctor knows just how much medicine to give and when to stop giving it, so that your child will wake up when the operation is over. Assure your child that this waking up will happen only after the operation is over and not before
The type of surgery your child is having will determine how much pain your child will experience after the operation. Most surgery causes some pain or discomfort, but most post-operative pain can be prevented or at least reduced. There are many medicines and methods which can be used to treat pain, but there are a few simple things to remember:
- Children must know that their pain will be taken seriously and they need to tell a grown up what is bothering them and where it hurts.
- Their parents, doctors and nurses will do their best to stop the pain.
- The pain will be treated.
- Medicine will be given to stop the pain quickly.
- Having a parent or another loved one present may be the best psychological treatment for the pain. Parents know more about comforting their own children than anyone else.
- Parents can help relax or distract their children.
After surgery, your child will be brought back to the room and monitored by a nurse. When determined ready, a child will be given food or drink according to a diet ordered in advance by your physician. Generally, children are encouraged to drink clear liquids (apple juice, ginger ale) and are offered jello or ices. Check to make sure that the staff at the hospital will ensure that all necessary arrangements are made for equipment and all prescriptions for medications and will be delivered to you with discharge instructions before you leave the hospital.
What to Do Once at Home
Your child may seem to need you more than usual after getting home from the hospital. Brothers and sisters may feel jealous of this extra care and attention, so it is helpful to talk about these feelings as a family. Perhaps you can make arrangements to have siblings out of the house with friends and neighbors for a couple of hours when the patient returns home so they can settle restfully and you can give them your undivided attention. Otherwise, maybe you can have a special treat such as a new video rental for them to watch to give you some room to focus on the patient’s re-entry to the home.
Let concerned friends and family help out with siblings in a routinized, non-emergency way. This gives the siblings time to be the “center of the action” in normal play situations with friends and neighbors. Playing “operation” or “hospital” at home after surgery lets your child express important feelings and feel more in control.
Encourage your child to pretend giving you or a stuffed animal an operation, or suggest building a hospital out of blocks or drawing pictures and writing stories about the experience. Children can cope with the stresses of surgery and feel proud for having managed such a difficult experience.
Praise your child who will feel good about doing well on a difficult day. This will help your child feel competent and successful and more likely to be able to incorporate this experience into a positive sense of self-esteem. Do not hesitate to call your physician if you have any questions or if your child’s condition changes in any way.
Michelle Brauntuch is M.S., CCLS. Certified Child Life Specialist Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, Englewood, N.J. To children, the hospitalization of a brother or sister can be frightening. The children in these families may experience turbulent feelings, may be separated from their parents for an unusual or uncommon length of time and the familiar routines of their daily lives may be disrupted. Parents and other adults may act anxious or worried, and the children may hear words and phrases that sound very confusing or frightening. The needs of children whose sibling is hospitalized are too often forgotten in the midst of the tension and worry about the patient. During this experience, these children often feel mixed emotions that can be misunderstood by the adults around them. This article was written to help the family members recognize and understand some of the reactions and concerns children may have when a sibling is hospitalized and to provide some suggestions on helping children understand and cope during this experience.
Several factors influence how a child will react to the hospitalization of a sibling :
- the age and developmental level of the child
- the seriousness of the illness of the sibling
- the length of time the sibling has been ill and/or in the hospital
- the amount to which the child’s daily routine is disrupted
- the amount of time, if any, the child is separated from the parents/significant others with whom he/she lives
- the attention that is given to the child’s reactions and feelings
- the quality of explanations and answers the child receives to the questions about the ill sibling
A variety of feelings about the hospitalization of a sibling may be experienced by children of all ages. There also may be a variety of reasons why they experience these feelings. Depending on the child’s developmental level and on their perception of the hospitalization, some feelings may be more prominent than others. Their feelings may change from day to day or hour to hour. They may have any one or many of the following feelings. They may feel conflicted because they are having multiple feelings at the same time.
Confusion as to what is happening and why, particularly, if the hospitalization was very sudden or unexpected. Younger children may not even know what a hospital is – it needs to be described to them , for example, as “A place where doctors and nurses take care of people who are sick . These sick people (adults and children) are called patients. These patients may need either surgery (also called an operation), which is when the doctor fixes something in their body that isn’t working well or he takes something out of their body that is giving them trouble, like tonsils, etc. Patients also go to the hospital when they need to get medicine in a special way or they can’t take that medicine at home.”
Guilt about angry wishes or thoughts that they had toward the ill sibling. Younger children, especially, may even have feelings that they are in some way responsible for the illness and its cause. Young children are developmentally egocentric and view their actions as the cause of what happens in their world. In addition, it is not uncommon for school-aged children to “wish” negative things about a sibling (ex: to wish for the moment that their sibling was “dead” or “sick”). It is common for them to feel they somehow caused the hospitalization. In addition, they may also have feelings of guilt because they aren’t sick themselves.
Anger toward parents for not protecting the sick person from illness and also concern that the parents will not protect them from getting sick. Their trust in their parents may be shaken, and they may have feelings of insecurity.
Fear that they may become sick themselves or “catch it” and have to be hospitalized, especially if they are unsure of the reason for the hospitalization.
Abandonment and worry about not having their own needs and wants met. They may wonder who will be taking care of them or making sure they are all right.
Rejection or being left out. If the children are not kept involved or updated about the hospitalization, they may begin to feel like “outsiders” to the situation and not as important family members. They may also be jealous of all the attention and concern the patient is given and be disappointed that they don’t seem to receive or deserve an equal amount.
Resentment because there are two sets of rules or standards: one for the hospitalized child and one for the other children.
Embarrassment because of the sibling’s condition. The hospitalization may draw a great deal of attention to the children from friends, relatives, teachers peers and even hospital staff. Children may not know how to interpret this. There are many ways in which children express their concerns and feelings. Reactions depend on the individual child’s temperament as well as their age and developmental stage. Children understand and cope with stressful situations in different ways. Some of the ways children may express their feelings include:
- separation issues – clinging to parents or caregivers
- eating disturbances – lack of eating or overeating
- behavior changes – withdrawal, outbursts, misbehaving, “acting like the perfect child”
- regression – returning to earlier self-soothing behaviors (thumb sucking, blankets), bedwetting, baby talk
- displaying feelings of jealousy and competition, becoming argumentative, fighting with others
- declining school performance
- changing social patterns – decrease in interest or involvement with peers or withdrawing from family unit
- becoming obsessed with the patient and the patient’s things
- hypochondria – complaining of similar ailments to that of the patient
Helping Children Cope There are many ways that you can help children cope with and understand the hospitalization of a sibling. It is important to remember that incomplete information may create fantasies that are often worse than the real situation. Allow and encourage children to ask questions and express feelings. They may be hesitant to ask questions, especially if this is a very stressful time for the family. Give honest and understandable answers to their questions. Simple, direct answers are usually most helpful. The following are other ways you can make the hospitalization of a sibling easier to understand for children.
- Be honest before, during and after the hospitalization. It is better to give correct information, rather than tell them something you will have to change later on or something that could cause incorrect fantasies.
- Let the children know that it is okay to ask questions and talk about the hospitalization. Reassure them that if you become upset or cry, that this is all right, too. They may be afraid to ask questions because they may upset you. Help them understand it is all right to have and to express their feelings and they can do so without losing control. They will turn to you for examples of appropriate behavior.
- Allow children to help in the preparation and planning of events. This is as important to the healthy children to have some control over the situation as it is for the hospitalized child. For example, letting them help with packing things for the hospital. These are also excellent opportunities for talking and answering questions.
- If the hospital provides a tour for patients before hospitalization, allow the siblings to also attend. If an emergency hospitalization occurs, explain it as soon as possible. Let them know how serious the illness or injury is and how soon they can see their sibling.
- For younger children, you may act out the hospital experience with people, dolls or puppets. Using puppets is a good way for younger children to share feelings they may be uncomfortable saying otherwise.
- Read or color books with stories about hospitals or let the children make their own story-picture books on what it is like to have a sibling go to the hospital. They could draw the pictures and you could write the story as they tell it to you.
- If the children seem to be displaying a lot of anger or frustration, find an active or vigorous play outlet for them. Through play, children work through their feelings. It helps release their anxieties as well as burn off excess energy in a constructive manner.
Things You Can Do If you are staying at the hospital with the child that is ill and/or if the healthy sibling is staying somewhere other than at home, try to have contact with them daily. Let them know where you are and what arrangements you have made for them and for yourself. When you are with them, spend some special time alone with them if possible. This may be a good opportunity for them to share some of their thoughts, feelings or fears with you. You can help them find ways to cope and understand when you are not with them. Also try to provide maintain as much of the daily normal routine as possible. Try to continue the special activities of your child as much as possible, such as school or sport activities, birthday parties and holiday celebrations. These are still an important aspect of their life. Activities that may help both the parent and the patients stay involved with the healthy sibling are:
- Write, e-mail or tape record “letters” to each other. Talk on the telephone as often as you can. Even if they cry when hearing your voice, allow these feelings to be expressed.
- Tape record bedtime stories or read to them over the phone
- Send a new piece to a puzzle to them every day
- Send safe, unused trinkets from the hospital to the healthy sibling, such as seasoning packets, plastic silverware straws, plastic syringes without needles and other safe, disposable hospital items.
- Have both the patients and the sibling make greeting cards, pictures and picture books for each other.
- If you cannot be with the siblings, ask them to keep a special item of yours for you until you can be with them. It should be an item that they specifically associate with you, for example, your pillow from your bed or something from your pocketbook. This helps them feel connected to you and reassures them that you will be coming back.
- Have a photo exchange between the patient and the sibling. Let the sibling select photos of themselves that they would like to send to the hospital for the patient. Place these on the patient’s bed or in a place where they can be viewed easily by the patient. If possible, take a picture of the patient actually in the hospital and send it to the sibling. A digital camera is useful for doing this, and if you do not have one, check to see if the hospital has one available. Pictures throughout a hospital stay can help keep the sibling updated on the patient’s progress as well as help prepare them for what to expect then they visit or when the patient comes home.
If possible, allow the sibling to visit the patient in the hospital. This allows them to see firsthand where the patient is and helps clear any fantasies or misconceptions that may have occurred. It offers an opportunity for questions to be asked. It may also help reduce stress for the patient and reassure him/her that the rest of the family is all right and that things will be the same when they go home. Before the visitation, however , prepare the sibling for the experience. Give the children a simple explanation of the situation. You may say that his brother/sister is in the hospital so that the doctors and nurses can help him get better. If the patient can have visitors in the room, you may say you will see his room, where he eats and sleeps and where he plays. In order to prepare them for some of the medical equipment they will see, you must use developmentally appropriate language. You should say that they may see some of the special things or medical equipment that help get the patient better. Encourage them to ask questions about what they don’t understand but , especially for younger children, provide information in case they don’t feel comfortable or can’t formulate the questions to ask. Depending on the age of the sibling, more or less information should be provided. Remember, there are Child Life Specialists or nurses available in most hospitals to provide any additional support or information that your children may need concerning the hospitalization.