Category Archives: Parenting

Safety first: Holiday shopping for the kids in your life

By Kristi Moline

We’re a few weeks into the holiday shopping season. That came fast, didn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I still have some shopping left. At the top of my shopping list are gifts for my two small children. They’re 3 years old and 6 months old.

Both as a mom and in my role as program manager for injury prevention at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, I think about safety first when I decide what gets put in the shopping cart.

Like all parents, I want my children to enjoy their toys. I buy toys that are fun and stimulate learning and growth. But, safety rules. Sadly, I’ve seen first-hand what can happen when a child gets a potentially dangerous toy in his grip. It can lead to injury or worse.

While working on this blog post, I learned that 13 kids age 14 and under died from a toy-related incident, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A startling 262,000 were treated for toy-related injuries in emergency departments in 2011. The usual suspects for causing injuries are non-motorized scooters, toy vehicles and toy balls.

If those of you reading this are anything like me, you probably haven’t finished shopping yet, either. I’ve collected some safety tips – with the help of the CPSC –that I hope will help guide what you put in your shopping cart this holiday season:

  1. Read the label. Buy age-appropriate toys that suit the child’s interest and skill levels.
  2. Small balls and toys with small parts can cause choking. For kids under 3, avoid these toys.
  3. If you give or your child gets anything with wheels – like a scooter, bike or in-line skates – make wearing a helmet a rule. A properly fitted helmet should be worn every time and everywhere. For more information on this, visit our Making Safe Simple website.
  4. Anything containing a magnet can be dangerous and kept away from kids under 14.
  5. Check that toys are of high quality design and construction.
  6. Make sure  instructions are easy to follow; discard toy packaging immediately so it doesn’t become a hazard.
  7. Once playing is underway, supervise children accordingly.

Here’s to a happy and safe holiday season.

Kids experience stress differently — how parents can help them cope

This is a post by Lizzi Kampf. She’s a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in the Emergency Department at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in St. Paul. She specializes in working with adolescents and children in acute behavioral crisis.

Children and teenagers today encounter more situations that can introduce stress into their world. Reactions to stress can vary based on a child’s background, coping skills, and their developmental level. Because children and teens tend to exhibit stress in very different ways than adults, challenges arise for parents trying to interpret and address what is really bugging their kids.

Children and teens tend to experience stress from many of the same situations that adults do, whether it is conflict with peers, pressure at school or in sports, family dynamics, or troubles with romantic partners. The difference is their minds are still developing the ability to process, interpret, and cope with these stressors. They also lack the life experience to know that they can make it through tough times and the confidence that they do have the ability to manage these difficult situations.

So what can parents do?

  • Encourage communication – Let your kids know that you are there to talk about what’s happening in their life and want to be a part of what is going on for them. Keep open lines of communication, giving them the ability to come to you and trust that you will listen.
  • Normalize feelings – Kids have an innate desire to fit in and can react strongly if they feel they are alone or different. Help them name the feelings they are having and let them know they are not the only one who has ever felt this way.
  • Model adaptive strategies – Kids learn from their parents how to deal with difficult situations. Show them that you can tolerate distress, and they will learn they have that ability as well.

For example, when your pre-adolescent is getting upset over not being able to complete a challenging math assignment you can say, “You seem like you are frustrated. I feel like that when I have a task that is difficult to finish, even though I am trying my best. Sometimes it is helpful for me to try something else for a while and then come back to it later.”

Finally, monitor your child for increasing stress levels. Kids who are becoming withdrawn from family or friends, having difficulty sleeping, or are missing a lot of school may need additional intervention. If it seems like they are not able to cope with challenges they face daily, or are having difficulty managing the stress in their life it may be time to seek professional help. Call your pediatrician or speak with a counselor at your child’s school if you need assistance getting referrals for a mental health professional.

 

Bullying, your child and you

This is a post by Amy Moeller. Amy is a therapist who has worked with children and adolescents for 25 years. She works in the Adolescent Health Department at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and treats teenagers experiencing depression, anxiety, social struggles and chemical dependency. In addition, Amy co-founded The Family Enhancement Center in south Minneapolis 17 years ago. She works at the center part time with children and families who have been affected by physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Amy is married and the mother of three children. 

“Being bullied is not just an unpleasant right of passage through childhood,” said Duane Alexander, M.D., former director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “It’s a public health problem that merits attention. People who were bullied as children are more likely to suffer from depression and low self esteem, well into adulthood, and bullies themselves are more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life.”

I recently attended the production of Mean, an original drama performed by the Youth Performance Company on bullying. The production was timely – it’s National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month. The performance gives us a view into the lives of students being bullied and introduces us to several forms of bullying including bullying at school and cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying can take on many forms. Sending mean messages or threats via text message. Spreading rumors online or through text messages. Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person. Taking unflattering pictures and sending them through cell phones or online. “Sexting” or circulating sexually suggestive messages about a person.

Who’s affected?

In Minnesota, we’ve had several instances of cyber bullying reported in the media. This behavior touches all schools and students from all backgrounds.

According to the I-SAFE Foundation:

  • More than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.
  • More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber threats online.
  • Over 25 percent of teens have been bullied repeatedly over through text messages or the Internet.
  • Well over half of those who’ve experienced bullying don’t tell their parents.
  • Bullying generally begins in elementary school, peaks in fifth through eighth grades and persists into high school, with very little variation between urban, suburban and rural areas.

The Cyberbullying Research Center reports that over 80 percent of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most popular form of technology and a common medium for cyber bullying.

About half of young people have experienced some form of cyber bullying and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly. Girls are at least as likely to be cyber bullies or their victims. Boys are more likely to be threatened by cyber bullies than girls. Cyber bullying affects all races, and the victims are more likely to have low self-esteem or to consider suicide.

What is bullycide?

Tragically, the set of MEAN is peppered with names and pictures of youth who have committed suicide after being bullied. What an incredibly unsettling idea that we have a name for this. The definition of bullycide is suicide caused from the results of being bullied.

Children and teens who are bullied live in a constant state of fear and confusion. Many feel the only way to escape rumors, insults, verbal abuse and terror is to take their own lives.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people resulting in 4,400 deaths every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bullying victims are between two and nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. A staggering 160,000 kids stay home from school every day for fear of being bullied.

New bullying statistics in 2010 indicate there is a strong connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide, according to a new study from Yale School of Medicine. Suicide rates continue to increase among adolescents, and have grown more then 50 percent in the past 30 years.

What to do if you suspect your child is being bullied?

  • Get your child’s input. You need to be a confidant your child can turn to for help in dealing with bullying. Help your child see it’s not their fault.
  • Talk to school authorities. Often, bullying takes place in unsupervised areas such as bathrooms, the playground, or school buses. Make school personnel aware.
  • Teach your child to avoid the bully. Your child doesn’t need to fight back. Walk away and go find a teacher or other trusted adult.
  • Encourage your child to be assertive. Your child doesn’t need to fight back, but they can stand up straight and tell the bully to leave them alone.
  • Practice with your child. It’s beneficial to role play and practice what they are going to say to a bully.
  • Teach your child to move in groups. A good support system can be an effective deterrent against bullies. Have your child go to school and other places with trusted and true friends who can support them against bullies.

There are many activities on bullying this month in the Twin Cities. I recommend taking your child to MEAN and, while there, learn about the many resources in the Twin Cities aimed at keeping our children safe from the insidious evil that bullying is.

The YPC will perform Mean through Oct. 14 at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis. For more information, visit the website

Preparing kids (for things that weren’t their idea!)

This is a post by Jeri Kayser, who’s been a Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota since 1985. Her educational background is in child development and psychology. She has three children who have been a great source of anecdotes to help illustrate developmental perspective. They’re wonderful at being good sports about it.

Something needs to happen; something that was not your child’s choice, and it’s going to require some cooperation on their part. Maybe it’s a trip to the dentist, a haircut, a move to a new school or dinner with some overbearing relative at a restaurant with cloth napkins. Like all successful endeavors, a little planning can go a long way.

Working with children about to have surgery gives me a pretty unique vantage point as to what helps when preparing a child for something new and challenging. The following are some thoughts to consider when faced with this daunting task.

Self–exploration

How do you feel about what’s coming up? What have been your experiences doing this event and what have you found helped or did not help? Personal confession: Going to the dentist is not on my top million list of things to do. I know this about myself so when it came time for my kids’ first visits to the dentist, I was honest about my feelings. I knew that anything I said about the upcoming visit to the dentist was going to contain some of my bias. While explaining what would be the sequence of events, I included where I felt challenged and what I did to make it better. Your emotional context of the event is going to be different from your child’s because you are unique individuals with unique perspectives.

Respect your knowledge of your child

How does your child best take in information? Do they need time to process or does time make them more anxious as they imagine every worse case scenario? Do they learn better hands-on or are they a better visual learner and like to read about a new event before they participate? Every child, at each stage of their development, is going to have their own way of approaching new information.

Find out what your child already knows

Often, when a parent has just confessed to me that they haven’t told their child anything about surgery, the child will be able to go into immense detail about what is going to happen. They know. They listen. They pay attention. The information is just so much more meaningful when there has been a direct conversation with opportunities to ask questions. When you ask your child what they already know, their response can give you helpful guidance in how they understand the event and what, if any, misconceptions they might have.

What to expect and what is expected of them

Not knowing what is going to happen is usually the source of anxiety, not what is actually happening. We as adults can think through all of the possibilities of what to expect and have more life experiences from which to draw. Kids tend to get more anxious about stepping into the great unknown and fear that loss of control. Explaining what will be happening in a step-by-step approach is comforting in its sense of predictability. Be sure about your facts. Shorter descriptions tend to be more accurate and easier to listen to. End the timeline of the event with something you will be doing when you are done and back home. This helps reinforce that the event won’t last forever and normalcy will return. Kids also need to know what is expected of them, when will they be required to be cooperative and what the repercussions for misbehavior are.

Questions from the audience

Make sure you leave time for questions right after you’ve finished explaining what will happen or later when your child may have additional thoughts on the topic. If you ask a person if they have any questions, the typical response is no.  A more helpful way to get to their thoughts could be to say, “Think of three questions you might have about (fill in the blank).” If you can’t answer a question, have your child write it down and make a list of questions to bring to whomever is most likely to have the answers.

Was it like what you thought it would be like?

This is a good question to sum up the experience. This is also a good question to encourage conversation about what went well and what they would want to change to make it even better the next time. If things didn’t go well, there is actually much to be learned by that. Success is a good ego booster, but failure is a better teacher. As you process what happened, you are also teaching your child how to face a new challenge, which is an invaluable gift for the rest of their life. Well-prepared kids tend to face any challenge with more skill, confidence and success.

Bonus round

It is very gratifying to watch your kids handle something you weren’t sure they could, and their self-discovery of just how strong they can be is priceless.

My oldest is going to college. How do I make the transition easy for her siblings?

This is a post by Jeri Kayser, who’s been a Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota since 1985. Her educational background is in child development and psychology. She has three children who have been a great source of anecdotes to help illustrate developmental perspective. They’re wonderful at being good sports about it.

If you’re a parent of a college-bound kid, your life has probably been taken over by filling out FAFSA forms, figuring out finances, deciding who’s bringing the fridge and shopping for dorm sheets. They really had to make them some weird size, huh?

You may not have paid attention to how this transition has impacted your younger children still at home. But, it’s not too late to think about what might work best for your family when your oldest leaves for college, especially if your oldest is just entering his or her senior year in high school this year.

There will be big changes and more subtle ones. Sometimes it’s the little changes that feel more disruptive because they have a way of sneaking up on you.

When our oldest left for school, it took our family forever to set the table for four people instead of five. When that fifth place setting was obviously unnecessary, our youngest would always groan, “Oh yeah, Zach’s not here.”

This shift in family life begins to firm up over that heavily ritualistic space of time known as senior year. Every sport or club banquet honoring seniors, every college fair, the ACT test, senior pictures, prom and graduation celebrations all remind us of what’s to come. At a grad party we attended this spring, I found a younger sibling greeting guests. She spied me, sighed and said, “This has been the ‘All Andrea, All Year- year.’ I’m sick of it!”

It can be a bit daunting to achieve balance between giving your kids the attention they need and preparing yourself, your college-bound child and their siblings for this next step. My hope is that the following tips will help your family:

Visit college with the entire family

Take your younger kids on some college visits. It’ll help them understand what college is about and why their big brother is  so excited. Plus, it’s a family trip! Many college visit programs include activities for siblings. Our youngest loved checking out the bookstores. It’s fun to get them a T-shirt from the chosen school because it’s a direct physical connection to their big sibling when they wear the shirt.

Involve siblings in graduation party prep

It’s a ton of work to get ready for a grad party. Assigning a younger child to sort through pictures and make a poster can be a huge help. It’s also a great way for everyone to reflect on all of the shared memories.

Move-in day: Get all hands on deck

Having siblings help on the day your freshman moves into her dorm is another set of legs to run up those three flights of stairs with all of the stuff, but more importantly it’s a great opportunity for them to see where their big sister will be living. They can also make their own imprint on the room by contributing with a picture, stuffed animal or shared item. When you leave, make plans for when your family will next see each other. Even if that isn’t until Thanksgiving, there’s comfort in knowing when you will see each other again.

Use social media

Facebook, Twitter, Skype, texting and emailing can be easy ways to stay in touch. Our kids share an iTunes account and have grown to love the fact that they can listen to each others’ current interests. When my daughter is missing one of her brothers, she likes to listen to one of their favorite songs.

Be mindful that your freshman needs time to establish relationships with new friends at college and most schools recommend that they stay at school for about six weeks without visiting in person. This is a fantastic rule and a tough one to follow, but it’s definitely worth it for their enjoyment of everything the college experience has to offer. Be ready to intervene if your younger children are communicating too much.

Send care packages

Every kid likes to get a care package. And there’s no better time like the present – when back-to-school shopping is in full swing – to start collecting shoe boxes for transporting goodies to your child. As you find items that would be of interest to your freshman, put them in the box and when you fill it up, send it off. Younger siblings can help prepare the care package.

Parents: You’ve got this. Here’s to a great school year!

School is in session

This is a post by Amy Moeller. Amy is a therapist who has worked with children and adolescents for 25 years. She works in the Adolescent Health Department at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and treats teenagers experiencing depression, anxiety, social struggles and chemical dependency. In addition, Amy co-founded The Family Enhancement Center in south Minneapolis 17 years ago. She works at the center part time with children and families who have been affected by physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Amy is married and the mother of three children. 

It’s that time of year again. It’s time for your teen to go back to school and juggle activities, homework and sleep.

As a therapist who works with teens, I know sleep and homework can present significant challenges. Between pressures of being involved in sports and other activities and being social, sometimes sleep and academic work take a backseat.

We all know that sleep is critical for kids. But did you know that the average teen needs around nine-and-a-half hours of sleep each night, according to the American Sleep Disorders Association? Studies show teens generally get fewer than seven-and-a-half hours of sleep.

From the moment their alarm sounds, teens go, go, go. But here are some ways you can help your teen catch more z’s and stay on top of school work.

Sleep

  • On a school night, set a time for lights out. While this is tough during the school year with activities, it’s better to set a time at the beginning than a mid-year change. Also, lights out means all electronics should be stowed away.
  • Establish a reasonable time to go to bed and wake up.
  • Help your teen develop a night-time routine that helps him/her slow down. Reducing commotion for an hour before bedtime will help your teen relax.
  • Cut caffeine consumption and encourage daily exercise more than two hours before bedtime.

Homework

  • Create an environment geared toward your teen. Some teens need privacy and quiet; others prefer to be around people. Find space in your where your teen is most comfortable. Have the tools they need to get the work done.
  • Pick a time for homework and stick to it. Routine makes your teen feel safe and secure. When they feel safe and secure, they’re at their best. Be available to help if your teen needs it.
  • Don’t let them get overwhelmed. When kids enter high school, they have a platter of activities from which to choose. Some teens want to do it all. This is a good opportunity to talk about “too much of a good thing.” See how they handle the responsibility of one activity before allowing them to take on another.
  • Get on top of a situation before it becomes a problem. During the first week, meet with your teen’s teachers or attend open houses to talk about expectations for your teen and your teen’s goals. This will send a message to your teen and the teachers that you care about your child’s education.
  • Keep your sanity. I know it’s easier said than done. Parents of teenagers often have trouble distinguishing between when to step in and help and when to back off. The grades they earn are their responsibility. We give them the space and the tools, and they need to do the learning. This doesn’t mean we ignore grades or stop caring. It means we push our teen toward taking the responsibility they need to become a successful adult.

Here’s to a well-balanced school year! Good luck, parents!

What advice do you have for other parents to prepare for the upcoming school year?

 

 

 

Talking to your kids about tragedies in the news

By now, you’ve likely read or heard about the violence that took place at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater during the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” According to the Denver Post, a gunman entered the theater and allegedly shot 71 people, killing at least 12. Police arrested a suspect, who is in custody.

We at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota are disturbed and saddened by this tragedy, and we extend our thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by it.

Today and over the next several days and weeks, the story around this mass shooting will continue to develop in local, national and world news outlets, as well as on social media. As a parent, you want to protect your children in every way, including sheltering them from this horrific event. Yet they may still be exposed. They may hear about the shooting from friends and other adults, social channels like Facebook and the news. Tragedies can hit home – no matter where they happen.

We reached out to some of our therapists and child life specialists, who offered tips about how to talk to children when there’s a tragedy:

Limit their exposure to media coverage

    • Don’t assume your children won’t pay attention to anything that isn’t “kid” programming. News media often display dramatic images that capture the attention of young children.
    • Be aware that media may break into a children’s program with updates.
    • Choose to watch a DVD or listen to a CD instead of watching TV or listening to the radio.
    • Consider activities away from media sources such as going to the park, reading books or playing board games.

Watch what your child watches and discuss what you see and hear together

    • Ask your children what they think and feel about what they hear and see.
    • Clarify any misconceptions they have about the information presented in the media.
    • Be certain to include information that older children may receive through social media and texting.
    • Monitor adult conversations. Children will often listen when adults are talking and may confuse facts for opinions.

Reassure your child of their own safety

    • Remind your children that you love them and are doing everything you can to keep them safe.
    • Educate them about the role of community service agencies such as police and firefighters that help to keep them safe.
    • Acknowledge a child’s emotions and take them seriously. Don’t try to minimize or talk them out of their fears.
    • Answer their questions directly but don’t give them more information than necessary.

Pay attention to changes in your child that may be a result of what they have seen or heard

    • Younger children are significantly more impacted by the reactions of adults around them as well as the visual images on television. They are more likely to exhibit behavioral changes as a result.
    • Older children may need to talk about what happened and their feelings about the events. They may ask more questions related to the event/attack or make speculations through “what if” questions.
    • Children may exhibit behaviors related to stress such as generalized fear that something might happen, changes in sleep habits or appetites, avoidance of places that are similar to the site of the attack/shooting, poor concentration and separation anxiety.

Be honest with your teenager

  • Be up front and frank. Teens have a higher understanding of the world than young children.
  • Invite them to share their opinions. They have them.
  • Be aware of their reluctance to go to a movie theater or similar environment. Be willing to accompany them until they feel more comfortable.
  • Talk about ways they can protect themselves and create a plan together should they find themselves in a dangerous situation.

For additional information about talking with your children about tragedies and trauma, please visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.

 

 

How do we teach our kids to be sad?

This is a post by Jeri Kayser, a Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Yep, you read that right. How do we teach our kids to be sad when every natural inclination tells us that kids need to always be happy? As parents, we tend to measure our self-worth in the reflection of our child’s emotions. As soon as our child cries, we seek a solution to sooth in a sympathetic response. But sympathy can sabotage self-esteem. No one wants others to feel sorry for them.

Empathy is more powerful. When you’re empathetic, you let your children know that you understand their distress and are prepared to support them as they develop their coping skills. This is much easier said than done. It’s painful to see your child in pain. Plus, learning to cope with sadness is a skill set that needs to be learned, so how can we help teach our kids how to be sad?

First Step: Embrace your own sadness. Kids learn by example. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, fatigued, frustrated, or generally not pleased with the status quo, do some self-exploration. There is much to be gained from trying to figure out why you aren’t happy. Seeking solutions is a way to gain control and find balance and when your children observe you work through something, they learn the value of the effort. Plus, they’re comforted by the fact that you have some of the same emotions as they do and have learned to deal with them.

Second Step: Remember everybody gets to own their emotion and every emotion is valid. We can go through the same event and have different responses to it, each equally relevant. There’s no “bad” emotion, just the one that’s present. If you can retain a calm presence, it’s easier to be supportive and not have your emotional response get mixed up with your child’s.

Third Step: Help give your child the vocabulary to express their emotion. Teach your child descriptive words that more accurately express their feelings. As they’re learning these words, encourage them to use art as well to express what they’re feeling.

Fourth Step: Help your child discover coping skills that work for them. One of my kids likes to write down her feelings in the privacy of her room (after the door has been slammed!). We know now to wait for the essay to be finished before she is ready to talk.

Last and most important step: Cut yourself and your child some slack. Being emotional is being human. Emotions are how we embrace life and experience it fully. It is not neat or perfect but real and messy and rich.

‘The Talk’

This is a post by Amy Moeller. Amy is a therapist who has worked with children and adolescents for 25 years. She works in the Adolescent Health Department at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and treats teenagers experiencing depression, anxiety, social struggles and chemical dependency. In addition, Amy co-founded The Family Enhancement Center in south Minneapolis 17 years ago. She works at the center part time with children and families who have been affected by physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Amy is married and the mother of three children. 

So you may no longer be the most influential force in your teenager’s life. Guess what: Your child still needs you and (secretly) wants your help and guidance.

This includes guidance about the topic some of us dread: Sex. When planning a conversation with your teen about sex, don’t save up for “The Talk” of olden days. The conversation about sex and sexuality isn’t a one-time event.

Believe it or not, teens want parental involvement. They want rules and boundaries that help them feel safe, and they want their sexual information to come from you – the parent. They can get the basic facts and figures from sex education in school. What they can’t get from their friends or school are values. Values come from the parent.

Before you have the first of many conversations, consider the following:

Keep an open mind. Don’t judge. Be open to your son or daughter’s ideas and thoughts, even if they’re different from your own. Accepting and acknowledging your teen’s feelings will get you far. Respect your teen. You don’t have to agree with him or her every time, but try to listen and treat him or her fairly. Be open and honest and, in return, you won’t get shut out. Teenagers have a keen sense of when adults aren’t being honest and genuine.

Consider the door closers. I give parents “door openers” and “door closers.” If your daughter comes home and tells you that her friend is pregnant, do you say, “You can’t hang out with her anymore. That’s terrible. See what happens when you have sex”? I’m sure you can imagine how far that response will get you. Open-ended, non-judgmental questions will get you further. Do you want to talk about it? How are you feeling about your friend’s pregnancy?  

Be proactive. Don’t wait for questions. Messages in popular culture provide great conversation starters. Watch what your teens are watching, listen to their music and read what they read. This gives you an opportunity to ask them what they think about the lyrics or the messages. Then you can share your ideas, opinions and values. I personally find the car to be my favorite place to bring up these subjects. When my son and I are alone in the car – let’s face it — he can’t escape me. I end up learning as much from him as he does from me.

Help your teen understand that sex isn’t just intercourse. Discuss other types of sex including oral sex. Many teens believe oral sex isn’t actually sex.

Talk about healthy relationships and love. Teens want to know about more than the mechanics. Find out what they think a healthy relationship looks like. Share your vision of a healthy relationship.

Have no fear. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” You can search for answers together.

If you’re still having trouble approaching your teen about sex, find a trusted adult to help you. And remember that while your teen may act like she doesn’t want you to have “The Talk” with her, she really does.

Have you faced any challenges when talking to your child about topics like sex and sexuality?

 

When the patient is the parent

Parenting is already a difficult job; now imagine parenting from your hospital bed – or worse, being so ill you need to rely on someone else to parent your child or children.  A hospitalized parent may be separated from their children, perhaps too ill to communicate, and the other parent or family member is too stressed to recognize the children’s needs.  Families struggle with separation and uncertainties with illness and hospitalizations, especially with sudden or traumatic medical events.

Parents and family members are often stumped at the best way to talk to kids about such situations.  Children can sense when something is going on and overhearing information can lead to misunderstandings or misperceptions. When a loved one is ill it is important to be honest with children and communicate with them at a level they can understand.  Taking a moment to talk with your children not only helps them, it may relieve some of your stress.  Parents are often surprised at how easy this kind of conversation can be – children usually have some information and are eager to be included. 

Three important parts of your conversation should include the following:

  • Mom or Dad is seriously ill (or grandparent, etc.) – Talking about an ill parent will not make a child any more upset than they already feel and it presents an opportunity for them to express, to a caring adult, how they are feeling. 
  • The name of the illness or injury If a parent has been diagnosed with cancer – it is okay to use the appropriate word. Children don’t often have bad associations with these words.  It will also be helpful if they want to share their story with a friend or teacher.
  • Your best understanding of what may happen – Explain what you believe will be your hospital course AND how this might affect them, “My doctor wants me to stay in the hospital until my infection has gone and daddy will be home with you” or “I’m planning to stay in the hospital until the end of the week but then I’ll make regular visits at the clinic to get medicine called chemotherapy; you will continue to go to school.”

 Ask your child what they want to know, and be open and honest.  Use age-appropriate words along with correct terminology to describe the illness.  Children will retell your story and if you worry about saying the words yourself, kids pick up on that.  You may need to reassure yourself too – people do have strokes and get better.  I encourage parents to be hopeful but honest. The worst way children can learn information is overhearing it.  Be mindful of what and how you share details of your illness, it might not feel fair to your children if they learn their cousins know more about the illness than they do.

Two – Six year old children need information and reassurance

  • Children often think they can cause something bad to happen – reassure that they did not cause this illness or injury.  Explain the illness on their level; don’t assume they won’t be affected somehow.  A two year old may not understand your illness, but they will know that a parent is not home or there are changes in routines.
  • Children often think illnesses can be contagious – reassure that they cannot catch the illness.
  • Children will want to know how they will be impacted – explain to them with detail the best you can.  Routine is important and equals security to children.  Keep children informed of their routine or any changes to their routine.

 

Six – Twelve year old children may desire detailed information

  • In addition to some of the other information, this age group can handle more information, but may get some of their information from peers, media, and online resources. 
  • Be sure to check in frequently in case they have new questions and concerns.

 

Teenagers can have a variety of reactions and responses

  • Provide lots of detailed information.  They want to be treated like adults even if their physical and cognitive changes interfere with producing very mature, adult-like behavior.
  • Make sure they have someone outside the immediate family to talk to on a regular basis, but discuss privacy issues, in case you want your personal info kept within the family.
  • Developmentally, teens are working on separating and being their own person.  This can be challenging since they want to spend time with friends but feel pressure (internal and external) to be home with an ill parent.

Resources

How to Help Children Through a Parent’s Serious Illness (Kathleen McCue, 1994)

Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child When a Parent is Sick (Paula Rauch and Anna  Muriel, 2006)