When Illness Strikes A Parent
Summary: When a parent faces a personal health crisis, children face a unique set of fears and concerns. For the first time, many children will see their parent as vulnerable, particularly is the parent is laid up for several days or weeks while recuperating from surgery, or sick from the more long-term effects of radiation or chemotherapy if the parent has cancer.
Talking with children about illness is
vitally important. Honest conversation that is age appropriate will help manage their anxiety and minimize their fear.
Some of the issues you may want to discuss with your children about a parent’s illness are:
- Explain that father or mother needs an operation and will be away from home for a few days. For young children be general, such as, “The doctor is going to fix Daddy’s leg.”
- Let them know that the doctor will do his or her best to make mom or dad feel better.
- If you are a single parent and you are ill, enlist the support of a caring, loving family member or close
family friend, someone whom your child trusts and feels comfortable with.
- Although it may be extremely difficult for you to think about, it is very important to be prepared to tell your child tragic news if your condition is permanently debilitating or terminal. Talk with your child’s doctor and a mental health professional as soon as possible on how best to handle their immediate concerns and needs, and how to prepare for their well-being in the future.
Encourage children to express their feelings. Allow them to talk about your illness and listen very carefully. This will help you to find out their degree of anxiety.
Be honest particularly when dealing with cancer or a debilitating illness, when the child asks, "When will mommy or daddy be okay?" Often what lies behind these questions is the child’s own concerns about who will care for them. Answer their questions with simple, honest, and accurate answers.
If your child is hearing things from other kids about cancer or your illness, this is a good opportunity to explore what he or she is thinking about it. Be open to varying points of view; another child who is saying negative things may have lost a parent, grandparent or other family member to a similar illness. Try to explore your child's uncertainties and questions.
Here are some questions you may want to ask your kids:
- How do you feel about mommy or daddy having to be away from home for a while?
- How do you think things will be different while mommy/daddy is recuperating? What will stay the same?
If the parent will be left with a disability, ask:
- How do you feel about mommy or daddy being unable to (walk/talk/other effect of the disability)?
- How do you think it will be for mommy or daddy to be unable to (walk/talk/other effect of the disability)?
"Hugs can do great amounts of good, especially for children." -Diana, Princess of Wales
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