When parents are unwell: what to do and how to talk to a child about illness
What to do if the parents are unwell and there is a child with them. The child may be seeing for the first time that his or her mother is lying down, unable to play, weak. Or mom and dad behave unusually, react unusually to the child. Or the child may not be allowed into the room.
Anything unusual causes anxiety.
- A child is sensitive not only to actions and information, but also to intonations and non-verbal signals. And it may seem to us that the child does not understand many things.
- Even for the youngest child, it is important to say: "Mom/dad is sick, or rather, recovering. She has a headache. It's right here. And in order for her to recover faster, she needs to sleep a lot, drink water, and take medicine. Bitter and sweet. Every day we are getting closer and closer to health.
- Children do not realize that it is difficult to see and touch. You can show them how much healthier they are (spread your arms to the sides).
Can you hear mom coughing (children are often more afraid of their parents' coughs than their own) - she has germs here - (point to the chest) and they make her cough. Is it loud? Are you scared? Let's imagine that mom is coughing up germs, as if she is throwing out garbage. She ventilates the room and the room is cleaned.
You can, without saying anything about coughing, play dogs with your child (barking and wagging their tails) - bark at each other (so that he/she stops being afraid of the sound of coughing)
You can say every time you hear a cough, "Mom/dad is coughing. Let's wish them health! "Be healthy! Be healthy!"
And it is important to tell an adult child that the parent is sick or recovering, what is important to them now, what will help them, and what will make them happy. It is important to say that the situation is under control. And now everyone needs to be attentive and, if possible, in a good mood - let's come up with surprises and jokes. It is important for a child to be included in family responsibility and to be able to influence something - he or she can make tea, buy groceries, ventilate, take responsibility for a younger child or a pet. It is important for us to answer the child's questions. Perhaps, we can show the results of the tests and tell them about the dynamics (of recovery).
Predictability and repetition of habitual actions are especially important now.
If possible, rituals - what is familiar - should be reproduced by the other parent or grandparents. (Habitual actions, brakes, words, clothes, sequence of actions, cartoons, books before bedtime...)
The child's reaction:
The child may ask questions - it is important to answer them briefly and calmly.
The child may get angry. This is a completely normal reaction. Frustration and anger, and a desire for everything to go back to the way it was, for needs to be met, for the world to be safe again and revolve around the child.
The child may have more frequent tantrums.
An older child may mask his or her anxiety by being more distant, aggressive, or completely switching to school or friends. They may pretend that nothing is happening (this is another reason to talk to them).
It is important for us not just to influence the behavior, not just to stop it, the behavior will change when we understand what is behind it - fear, anxiety?
With a child who can't speak yet (and even with those who have been able to speak for a long time), we list (with a questioning tone) what he or she might be feeling - are you afraid, do you want to be held, are you bored, do you want to play, are you angry?
And only then do we offer an action.
Our words: "stop it immediately", attempts at rational influence, blackmail, accusations - are unlikely to help. The younger the child, the stronger the reaction, because they have less opportunity to realize and "cover" their needs.
It is important for us to shift our focus to what we can influence right now. And dream about the future. When everyone is healthy and can be together again.
What a little child can do:
- Draw a postcard for mom or dad. (For toddlers - You can outline a hand or make prints)
- Slip a letter under the door (drawing)
- Wash vegetables and fruits with your hands, mix the salad
- We can cook in advance: Buy pre-sliced bread and sliced cheese - ask the child to make a sandwich for mom/dad
- sing a "health song"
What an adult can do:
- Play doctor with toys. With any doctor's kits. If a parent can be approached, play with him/her.
- Knocking - (we have a secret in our family - we knock on the wall before going to bed "knock... knock... knock... knock" - I love you)
- Thread a thick thread under the door. The mother takes the ball, the child has the end of the thread. You can stretch it and pull the string, transmitting the signal - "I am with you"
- If you have the strength, sing your favorite song together from different rooms
- Send your photos and small video greetings to the phone of the other parent or an adult.
If the child is afraid of getting sick, and for prevention:
You can play the "health shield" with your child - taking a deep breath and exhaling, the child makes a sharp movement of his or her hands from top to bottom, around himself or herself, as if creating a glowing protection.
And one more thing - any exercises related to a long exhalation will be useful now: soap bubbles, balls, tongue twisters, songs, "candy fight" - blowing, moving candy wrappers from one to another, holding a feather or ball in the air with your breath
All the best and good luck!