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 children 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/Dad has been injured. The good thing is that s/he’s at a hospital now with doctors who know how to take care of her/him. They are working hard to help her/him get better.”
- Do your best to manage your own anxiety and to protect your children from information they don’t need. Keeping in mind how to manage anxiety in children, think through what you’re going to say to them 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 clergy person.
- As time passes, keep communicating, and update your children as appropriate. Although it’s important to be careful with the amount of information you offer them, do try to discuss what is happening. Remember, your children’s imaginations will fill in any hole, and that may be far more troubling than reality. So 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 any of your children are going to be staying with relatives or friends for any period of time, suggest that they take a beloved object, such as a favorite blanket, toy, book, or T-shirt. This will help give them a greater sense of security.
- In talking about coping with injury, assure your children that the parent’s injury is not their fault, or anyone else’s. 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 children to see their injured parent. This will depend on the developmental level and emotional maturity of each child. Get help with how to prepare them for the injured parent’s appearance. They 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 how your children remember.
- If a visit is appropriate, don’t force touches and hugs, which may be scary at first. Let each child set a comfortable pace.
- If your children can’t visit the injured parent yet, they can still 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.