During rehabilitation, the more the family rallies around the parent who is physically or mentally injured, the better both may do. Even when the outcome is unknown and reassurance is hard to give, your child will thrive on the chance to be hopeful. Helping kids deal with change together this way will ensure they are coping in the best way possible.
Manage the Information Given to Your Child
- There may be very little information available at first. Don’t give false assurances if you don’t know, but do be reassuring: “Mom has been injured. The good thing is that she’s at a hospital now with doctors who know how to take care of her. They are working hard to help her get better.”
- Do your best to manage your own anxiety and to protect your child from information your child doesn’t need. Keeping in mind how to manage anxiety in children, think through what you’re going to say to your child before you say it, as well as what you’re going to say during family phone calls. It might help to talk with a friend, parent, advisor, doctor, or clergyperson.
- As time passes, keep communicating, and update your child as appropriate. Although it’s important to be careful with the amount of information you offer your child, do try to talk with him about what is happening. Remember, your child’s imagination will fill in any hole, and that may be far more troubling than reality. Offer hope: “It may take a while before we know everything, but our family will get through this together.”
Create a Sense of Security
- During this time, your family’s usual activities may be disrupted. Make sure that at least some familiar routines are followed consistently.
- If your child is going to be staying with relatives or friends for any period of time, suggest that your child takes a beloved object, such as a favorite blanket, toy, book, or T-shirt. This will give your child a greater sense of security.
- In talking to your child about coping with injury, assure your child that his parent’s injury is not your child’s or anyone else’s fault. It’s just something that can happen with this kind of job.
Determine the Best Time to Visit
- Consult with medical and support staff about the appropriate time for your child to see his injured parent. This will depend on his developmental level and emotional maturity. Get help with how to prepare your child for his parent’s appearance. Your child will need to know in advance about tubes, machines, bandages, and so forth, as well as the fact that there will be other injured service members nearby. The recuperating parent may look and/or act very differently from the one your child remembers.
- If a visit is appropriate, don’t force touches and hugs, which may be scary at first. Let your child set a comfortable pace.
- Maybe your child can’t visit the injured parent yet, but your child can stay in touch by drawing pictures for the parent, offering a stuffed animal to put on the hospital bed, or recording a song to share.