How to Talk to Kids About Trauma, Loss, and Illness

Should you talk to a child, teen, or even a young adult about chronic illness? Are you allowed to use the words illness, sick, dying, and death when talking to kids? How young is too young to tell the absolute truth about these life difficult topics?
 
These are hard conversations, but they are important to have. I was honored to be part of The Chronic Connection Podcast and share strategies for parents and caregivers. Take a listen below.

Tips to Support a Child Receiving Stitches

The first set of stitches is in the books for my little guy, Blake.  After I tossed him in a pond our giant lab, Tank leaped right on top of him. His paw hit Blake’s face and punctured his lip. Both of my kids freaked out. I mean full on tears and a hard time breathing. Blake went limp like a ragdoll, puked before we got him in the car, and then fell asleep from exhaustion. He was at a level 10 for anxiety. We had a 2-hour drive to urgent care, so it gave us time to regroup and calm down.

Here is what we did to make the situation go from high anxiety with pain and trauma to a successful procedure.
  1. I stayed calm. I lowered my voice, made good eye contact, and reminded him that this was my job.
  2. I prepared him for what he would experience. I gave him lots of details and cleared up misconceptions.
    I talked about his job of keeping his body still and breathing. I explained that stitches are string bandaids and that the doctor will numb the area so that he wouldn’t feel it.
  3. I validated his emotions and provided reassurance. “You are so scared right now. I will be there to help you.”
  4. Advocacy. This was a big one for me. I advocated for topical numbing cream which the doctor was hesitant on but then agreed. I knew it would decrease the pain from the lidocaine injection.
  5. Comfort hold. There was a papoose board in the trauma room and B asked what it was. Every meme that The iPad Lady has posted went through my head. There was no way they were going to use that. He was able to lay directly on my chest in a position for comfort.
  6. Distraction. I held up my phone so B could watch a movie during the procedure.
  7. Choices. I gave him as many choices as I could.
  8.  ONE VOICE. When he was getting the stitches it was just the doctor and us, no other team members. Everyone was super calm, the doctor would talk to him about what he was doing before he did it.
  9.  Procedural Support. I named things that he was doing great on, slow deep breaths & keeping his body still.
  10.  Bravery Reward. Yes, he got ice cream and chose a small toy for being so brave.

Highlights: The doctor said,” Good idea Mom on the numbing cream.” ❤️

You can continue to help kids process their experiences and feel empowerment when you ask them to share their stories. It could be done through medical play, art, journaling, or verbaling telling you.

 

Related Articles:

Medical Play 

5 Tips to Help Your Child at The Doctor 

How to Pack an Emergency Go Bag

Helping kids get comfortable wearing a mask during COVID-19

Many communities are strongly recommending children and adults to wear masks while out in public. Here are some quick tips to help your kids cope with this new change.

  • Explain what COVID-19 is in simple language that they can understand.
  • Provide opportunities to play and get comfortable with the mask.
  • Give lots of choices.
    • Materials to use
    • Color and design options
    • Decorating
  • Validate their emotions and normalize them.
    • “It is frustrating that we have to wear masks.”
    • “I’m sad too that we have to do this.”

Here is a fun Mask Coloring Page that can also be used to help kids cope with this new experience. If your child has to go to the doctor, they will see medical providers wearing similar protective masks. This is an Activity Sheet that can prepare kids while providing opportunities to feel validated.

Animal coloring sheet created by Sarah Nunnally
Activity sheet created by Emma Fratangelo, MS, CCLS & Stephen Browne

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Supporting Children and Teens During COVID-19 

Supporting Families Through Virtual Child Life Services

Family Activity To Help During COVID-19