Parent Skill #2 — Talk with your child

Develop open communication with your child regarding the illness

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

It is often difficult to decide just how much health information should be shared with your child. You may be concerned that information might cause your child to become anxious. Usually, however, it is best to share information openly and honestly with your child. Otherwise, your child will pick up bits and pieces of information, but much of it will be inaccurate. If parents and doctors talk outside the hospital or clinic room, the child will assume that things are much worse than they actually are, and will worry needlessly.

In the case of chronic illness, honesty is the best policy.

Of course, you must use language and terms that your child can easily understand. It is good to give your child only the information that is needed now, and not focus on what "might" occur weeks, months or years ahead.

A child might believe the illness is a punishment, caused by some transgression. Similarly, siblings might feel that they are somehow responsible for the illness, especially if the diagnosis followed a fight or an argument. Children fight every day. You must reassure your children that the illness is something that simply happened; it is not anybody's fault.

Siblings and friends may also worry that they could somehow "catch" the illness by being around the child. It is important to help children understand that the child's illness is something that just happened, and is not communicable like a cold.

Make yourself available to your children, spouse, and extended family. You are their anchor and their support. The whole family should talk together about the illness, the treatment and the impact it has on the family. Be open and honest. The child with the illness will likely feel guilty for causing the family such challenges. The siblings might feel abandoned, jealous, worried, scared or resentful toward the child with the illness. Remember that all of these feelings are very normal and expected. You can address these issues best through your love and support.

Make sure to give your children honest answers to their questions. Acknowledge that, although the situation is difficult, together your family can handle it. Your child's health care providers can give parents specific suggestions regarding the best way to explain this particular illness.

Despite the difficulties involved in a chronic illness, family bonds often strengthen as a result of the experience.

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