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How to Talk to Your Kids about Their Harsh Realities

I’ve blogged in the past about a deadly infection my daughter had and the conversation I had as a result. A warning of sorts, so she could understand the seriousness. She did. And it made me think about how I’ve handled talking to the kids over the years about their health.

Years ago we deliberately decided to be honest with the kids about their issues, wanting them to not have any shame around their disease/disorders because they thought we were hiding it from them or anyone else.

We have a no secrets policy.

Diagnosis:

  • We’ve often just said what we thought was appropriate for their ages:
  • Your _____ doesn’t work exactly like it should, so you have to take medicine. 
  • Everyone has something, your thing is just this.
  • You’re right, it’s not fair.

Medical Procedures:

  • As truthfully (and not scary) as possible we describe the procedures. Even when they were little we used the proper descriptions of medical equipment. We do say blood, needles, etc.
  • When we act confident about a procedure or appointment, our kids feel better. If you can’t be calm about something the doctor is going to be discussing, bring someone with you to take your child out of the room. I am not against our kids seeing us upset, I just think we have to think about the context/situation.
  • When you’re describing a procedure, speak softly and slowly, allowing them time to think and ask questions or bring up something they are uncomfortable with.
  • Interpret for your healthcare professionals. You know your kid. Even if a doctor is compassionate and caring, the way they are describing something might not be the way your kid needs to hear it. It is okay to slow something down, revise something the doctor is saying and present it in a way your kid understands.

Risks:

  • While it’s hard to pre-think about the risks your child may face, try to prepare yourself for the symptoms, procedures, and recovery they may go through. If you have some time to prepare what you might say, it’s easier to deliver. 
  • You know your kid, so adjust what needs to be communicated based on their age and/or development about the hard stuff.
  • Prepare even for the unexpected. As hard as this is, I encourage you to face the hard things yourself. For example, it had never occurred to us that our son would go on dialysis because we’d always planned a preemptive transplant, yet, we found ourselves faced with beginning dialysis in a matter of a few days. I had never discussed the possibility of dialysis with him. Not one of my better parenting moments, waiting to figure that out. I ended up telling him the machine was going to clean his blood and had to clarify that the blood would go out but more importantly be put back in by the machine (he missed that part somehow in the discussion).

Be Kind to Yourself:

  • We mess up. We just do. Be kind to yourself when you think you’ve had a misstep explaining something to your kid. It’s okay to take a deep breath and re-explain something. 
  • It’s completely okay to say, “I don’t know.” Did you read that? It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” It’s okay to say, “Let me think about the best way to talk to you about that…”
  • Talk things through with someone. Listen, I think we can all use someone professional to talk to, unfortunately we all do not have the luxury of time and money to make sure we have a therapist on-call. We can however, reach out to someone we know to be understanding and talk to them about how we’re going to address something with our kids. I find it especially helpful to talk to someone who knows my kid really well or has been through something similar.

When in Doubt:

  • Be honest. Err on the side of honesty, always. You may have to dial down what you say and how you say it, but honesty always wins. 

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