Model the reaction you hope your child will have
You may want to scream and cry when you discover challenges with your children's health, but resist the urge to do so. "Not only is the content you impart [about your children's health] important, but the way you convey that information is critical to how your child will respond," explains Dr. Shrand. "If you sound scared, you make them get scared. If you sound too cavalier they may think you don't care." And, Dr. Gilboa agrees, "Your kid will not react exactly as you do, but he will be watching to see how serious you think this is. If you can moderate your own reactions some, he will be reassured."
While learning how to tell my son about his medical condition wasn't easy, he was clearly ready to understand the developmental delays that were challenging his daily life. But, I did need guidance. "A family doctor or pediatrician that knows you and your child really well can help," offers Dr. Gilboa. "Teaching your child to reach out to his doctor with questions or concerns is a great life skill to have. Medical illnesses [like childhood cancer], disabilities or delays are difficult discussions, but focusing on the positive resources that your child has can help. And knowing that there are other people in the situation helps a child feel more secure." Children's health issues are an emotional rollercoaster for kids, but so long as you are your youngster's rock, you can make it easier for your child to understand.
Assess your child's feelings
Before talking to your child about your kiddo's health issues, first you have to do some probing into where they're at emotionally with this issue. Taking cues about how my son felt about situations that are affected by his developmental delays signaled that he was ready to talk about his challenges. "Before making any explanation ask the child what they think is going on with them," advises Dr. Joseph Shrand. "From there you will have a baseline as to how to proceed. Do they sound scared, confused, overly factual? Modify your response accordingly."
Validate your child's emotions
Whether your youngster is battling childhood cancer or living day by day with ADD, their lack of maturity can make their feelings about their challenges harder to understand — but none the less valid. "Don't tell them how to feel or how not to feel. Keep it in perspective," recommends Dr. Deborah Gilboa. "If you do not have answers, keep reminding them that there are a lot of possibilities." Even long after "the big talk," be prepared to help your kiddo sort out emotions about his health as they come. It is a process, not a one day event I soon discovered.