We expect and hope that childhood will be a time of life that is carefree and uninhibited by very adult-like cares, such as handling a major illness. However, for some children, the time comes when they must face a major illness of their own, or try to understand the illness of a playmate.
If your child has a friend who has become very ill, some support may be needed in learning how to cope and re-relate to their friend. These tips can help.
1. Talk to the parents of the child: This one is for you, the adult. Be in touch with the parents of the child who is ill. Ask them about how things are going, and what sort of things their child might like as they battle illness or go through recovery. This is valuable information that will help you implement the following tips with your child.
2. Keep the lines of communication open: Talk to your child and let him lead the conversation. Ask if he has questions about the illness, or how he is feeling about changes in his friend’s health.
Be careful about how much you actually share – keep it age appropriate and child led. Kids will let you know what they’re ready to hear.
3. Choose your words carefully: Use child-friendly language that is both simple and direct, “Jessie’s body is fighting hard to get better. She has little warriors inside her called white blood cells that can help. Her parents and lots of amazing doctors and nurses will do many things to help her too.”
4. Come up with simple ways for your child to show support: Help her draw a card or write a letter. Let her pick out a special balloon, blanket, or bear to send to the hospital.
5. Brainstorm new ways the children can interact: If the child who is ill goes through periods of time of reduced energy and stamina, or is bed ridden for a time, talk with your child about new ways they can spend time together. Find great crafts, a book to share, or puzzles to do. In short, look for creative ways they can maintain the connection of friendship
To put all this in perspective, let’s hear from a parent who has been there – a parent of a child who has become ill. Bonnie’s daughter, Maddie, has Pulmonary Hypertension, a disease characterized by shortness of breath caused by heart and lung issues, and one which is treated by some fairly extreme measures. Maddie was diagnosed at age six, and is now 14, so the family understands well what it takes for kids to interact when one of them has an illness.
When people talk about a network of support during an illness, you often think of a network of doctors. But, as Bonnie points out, kids need their own network of friends set up. Her daughter Maddie refuses to be different. She has friends who have learned to know, love, and take care of her.
Bonnie also stresses how important the communication in all of this is. She says, “The more you don’t talk about it, the more it becomes a scary thing. You are labeling the child a freak right away. Everybody has something they need to deal with. It is what makes us all unique. It’s what you choose to do with it that matters.”
Facing the illness of a friend can be a scary and uncertain time for a child. Helping them choose ways to support the child in need can be empowering and comforting, as well as a beautiful opportunity to teach compassion and understanding.