As a parent, we want the best for our kids! While we understand that we can't protect them from everything, we don't exactly look forward to watching our children struggle. When their health is a concern, it's another story. We don't want our children in pain. We don't want them to have to endure scary experiences. While we are trying to process information as quickly as it's coming ourselves, it can seem almost impossible to "keep it together" during these trying times.
But what we don't realize is just how important it is for us to "keep it together."
You've heard the statement while flying, "Put on your own oxygen mask first before helping your child." This phrase applies when you are dealing with medical situations with your child.
YOUR response (actions, emotions, coping mechanisms, etc.) is directly affecting your child's ability to cope during healthcare experiences.
What does that mean?
If you are absolutely losing it while your child is being helped in the Emergency Room, you're not helping your child. You're making your child more scared, more worried about what's to come, and you're interfering with any opportunity for your child cope effectively.
Children are very aware of their surroundings. They pick up on things when we don't realize it. Even babies and toddlers can sense your anxiety.
Your child deserves some stability when everything else around her is entirely threatening, confusing, and foreign. While most of us aren't doctors, and really don't know what's to come ourselves, we do understand far more than our children do in these situations! Your child needs you to be the only support she has in these moments. You can choose how you want to respond and I encourage you to respond in a way that will comfort and encourage, and help keep your child calm. You're not always going to be able to control your response, just try to do your best. That's all we can ask of ourselves and our kids!
Backed By Research
Are you looking for research to back this up? I have it. These are just a few:
- In health care settings, parental anxiety is associated with that of their children (Heffernan & Azarnoff, 1971; Johnson & Baldwin, 1968, 1969; Wright & Alpern, 1971).
- Parental and other family members' anxiety can be easily transmitted to the child (Solnit, 1984).
- Interventions reducing parents' upset may also be beneficial to their children (Mahaffy, 1965; Skipper & Leonard, 1968).
You Can Be What Your Child Needs
We know that children thrive when they have a supportive relationship with a trusting person. When you picture your child in whatever healthcare setting you may face, you can imagine that the many unfamiliar people involved in her care (or few, but still unfamiliar) likely have not built a supportive, trusting relationship with her in the few minutes they've been able to spend with her. Your child needs YOU. So if you need to take a moment, then step outside the room, take a walk to get some water, and come back collected and ready to be your child's support. You can fall apart when you're away from your child. I understand how challenging this is during these stressful times, especially when it's difficult to plan for how you will act in an emergent or devastating situation (I'm not great myself!), or even something that's not super life-threatening and you're just feeling all feels. Regardless of your situation, it's imperative that you focus on what your child needs rather than how you feel or how you want to respond.
I'm here to help you keep your cool when things around you are not. I'll be back with some tips on how you can manage and maintain your self-care so you can be the best version of you for your child.
Q: What has helped you to keep calm in the moment when you were falling apart inside?
I would love to hear your input and experiences! As a Child Life Life Specialist, I've had countless moments where I'm in a heap of tears inside watching kids feel pain and fear during procedures, but I've had to keep it together to help them get through the procedure. Now, after having been the parent watching MY child during procedures it's a different ball game, and I'm constantly checking myself to be sure I'm maintaining my calm for my kids. How do you do it?
| Kara |