Emotionally healthy kids feel safe and secure.
One of the most difficult things any family can face is the illness of a parent. Preschoolers and toddlers need schedules and predictability, and when a parent gets sick, the sad reality is that all of that flies out the window. Continuing to keep your little ones emotionally healthy when you are dealing with a long-term illness or difficult diagnosis involves enlisting the help of others and changing your expectations. Making sure your children are emotionally whole during the experience and beyond is the goal during this very difficult time.
1Decide how much you want to tell your child about your illness. The words you use will depend on the age of the child, but telling them a certain amount is important. Say things like “Mommy is going the doctor so I can feel better,” or “Let’s draw daddy a picture while he is at the hospital so he will feel better.” Preschool-aged children understand the concept of feeling badly and feeling better, and giving them a project to do makes them feel like they are helping.
2Have an ongoing conversation. Keeping your child’s emotional health in tact while you or your partner struggle with an illness can be challenging, but giving small amounts of information along the way will help. Preschoolers need to feel safe, and telling them more than they can handle will backfire. Little bits of information when they ask for it or when things change will help you stay in control of your emotions while making sure they are OK.
3Be aware of changes in behavior. Things like sudden bed wetting, nightmares or an increase in fussiness may be an indication that your child is stressed because he senses something is wrong. Extra reassurances and keeping things as normal as possible during these times is important. Enlisting the help of family members or friends on especially bad days can keep things at home functioning semi-normally.
4Save your energy for time with your kids. This might mean that the laundry doesn’t get done or the house isn’t as neat as usual, but that’s OK. Changes in health often require changes in expectations. What you used to be able to get done in a day just may not be possible at this time. Spending time with your kids and making them feel secure when you are “tired” or “not feeling well” is the best way to use the energy you have. Letting them help you with little tasks during these times can give them a way to help that is tangible.