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Helping Your Healthy Children Understand And Cope

Posted on Feb 07, 2013

Figuring out how and what to tell your healthy kids about your sick child's illness can be a daunting task. Sometimes, less is more.

One of the greatest challenges I ever faced as a parent was talking to Lainie’s younger sisters about her condition, what was happening in our family, and what might very well happen to all of us in the future. Uncertainty ruled the day when it came to those conversations, and I wish someone could have provided a primer for these kinds of talks. They are daunting and scary, with consequences for both parent and child that cannot be anticipated. So, I thought back to earlier times before Lainie was sick, and one of the kids would ask me tough question. How did I answer then, when life was basically normal, and the consequence would not be so scary. If I ever gave them an evasive answer, they always knew I was dodging the question, and they would continue to hound me till they got satisfaction. That taught me a lesson. It’s an old adage. Honesty is the best policy. But how much honesty is right for the kids?

With regard to that, I adopted the strategy that “less is more.” I would be up-front and honest to a point, not avoiding the realities of our situation, but removing the harsh parts, and supplanting them with hope and a positive perspective. Keeping it simple is what mattered, and depending on the age of the child, the less is more approach worked well for me. My baby daughter, Alexandra, didn’t need much more than reassuring words to help her get through a tough time. But then again, she was only 4 years old when most of Lainie’s treatments occurred. Samantha, my middle child, is five years older than Alexandra, and needed a whole different approach.

I can only guess what affect this approach had on Samantha. Being older and so much more aware of the seriousness of her sister’s illness, and more importantly, the affect it had on her personal life, must have left her wanting more and better answers from me. The hardest thing about dealing with older children is the need to protect them, all the while knowing they are resenting you for it. It can be lonely and isolating when you feel out of the loop, both in terms of information and attention. It’s painful to admit, but there were times when I simply could not answer any of her questions, or provide a comfort she so desperately needed. It was then, with me mute and my child crying, that the crushing weight of cancer came down upon all of us. Sometimes, there are no words.

So, the key is to know your kid and what you can say to them. Age does matter. Kids are pretty accepting so don’t feel like you have to give them all the details. Keep it simple. They probably don’t want to know anyway. Above all, be honest. Sometimes, there are no answers. Hugs, kisses and ice cream work better!

Stathi Afendoulis

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