There is an unfortunate imbalance in life when it comes to what our children are exposed to. On the one hand we do everything we can as parents to protect our children, censoring internet activity, watching them cautiously out of the window as they embark on their first solo mission to the local shop; but despite all of our efforts there are circumstances in life that just happen and there is nothing we can do to stop them.
Older children will ask questions and as uncomfortable as they can be, the benefit to this is that you immediately know what they want to know, it makes for a guided conversation. You can also use this time to establish what they do know and where they are finding that information. Of course sometimes things will happen that they wont have heard about, this is what we are really focussing on in this blog.
When I was diagnosed with cancer my Son was only 1, it meant we didn’t have to have an uncomfortable conversation but it did mean that his previously breast feeding Mum had to leave for a while. As painful as it was for me i knew I had to immediately stop feeding him and he transitioned into his own room before I had to leave. The hardest part being that over the month that I was in hospital, he had forgotten me by the time I came home - but he soon got used to me again.
Fast forward 2 years and I found myself back in for another op. We told Mason about all of the fun things he would be doing that week and we made sure it was full of family, we then explained that I wouldn’t be coming because the doctors were going to be making my breathing easier, but daddy will be with him.
Mason was fine with this, and he even got to visit me and have a ride on my lap in a wheelchair - that part is now all he remembers of the whole week.
I know that every family will experience a serious scenario at some point and the loss of loved ones - which is painful to the point of struggling to get up let alone function as a parent.
For a long time parents felt it best to shield their children from their emotions, especially when upset because obviously a child seeing their parent in complete distress or when they're scared can be damaging. There is now a far wider understanding of emotions and we can live in the knowledge that being upset for a very valid reason is not losing control and therefore isn’t going to compromise your child’s feeling of security, especially if we regularly explain our emotions and reactions. By sharing your emotions with your children you are validating theirs for future reference and are giving them the language skills to articulate how they are feeling and why.
All of this is very well and good but when you are faced with grief or concern to the point of not feeling like you can cope it is just as ok to simply explain that Aunty Ann is going to be looking after you today because I need a bit of time to have a rest and take care of myself. Showing your children what it takes to mindfully take care of yourself also helps to refer back to when you need to use those skills. Running your child a nice bath or taking them for a walk outdoors when they are struggling emotionally are great examples or demonstrating self care.
Children of a young age will most likely not have experienced trauma that will allow them to relate to how an adult is feeling and even if they have they are not able to make the connection. If you need to explain something to a child it is helpful to give them a comparison that they can relate to, of course it won’t be a patch on what’s actually going on but you just need them to understand enough to not be confused as to why the energy in their environment is different. Part of children’s neurological instinct to survive enables them to feel the emotion and energy of those around them, which is why saying nothing is never the best thing to do, because they know you’re not ok, and until they can understand - even on the simplest of levels - you risk compromising their emotional security.
Sometimes there will be stories or examples of positive scenarios that you can touch on with your children that show them the good things that can happen despite adversity. Maybe there is someone you know who was poorly but the doctors have made them better. There are wonderful stories of children raising money for charity that you can share with them. Often there are charity events too at schools or other childcare settings that have games and competitions your children can enjoy, all the while understanding to an appropriate level the cause they are contributing towards.
If there is a specific topic you are struggling to approach, we are able to support you, our 1:1 coaching options are available via our website and our online forums across social media and again on our website are perfect places to talk with other parents.
Thank you for reading, life Is better together and I hope this helps make the hard parts a little easier.