Hospital Life – How listening to a sick child can help


Children start to get frustrated , the longer their healths deteriorate. They act out these frustrations in so many different ways. Unfortunately their nearest and dearest are left on the receiving end of these feelings. Its hard to empathise with a person living with ill health. No matter how much love, attention and affection you have to dish out, it does not stop the child having the monopoly as regards the ugly effects of the sickness.

I remember when I was pregnant and completely sick. I remember thinking that it was the worst feeling ever. Constant tiredness, sickness, vomiting, constipation, nausea and my mouth tasting like tar became my daily ordeal. Not that I had ever tasted tar but I imagined it tasted like it, smelt and looked like it!

I had my loved ones waiting on me hand and foot as I lay immobile on the “bed rest” prescribed by the doctor. No matter how much they cared, I still felt sick. Too horrible to even speak. In fact sometimes I felt like screaming for them to leave me alone. I had the common sense not to because I could not even walk to the bathroom without help. I envied their wellness. I wanted to eat but I couldn’t. I wanted to sleep but the baby turned on my belly into a champions league field. But I understood what my sickness was. I understood the time range. I even understood that I was pregnant afterall  I was an adult with common sense. Sadly, even that did not diminish my frustration.

So, although pregnancy is nothing compared to the ill health that children experience, imagine how it must be for a child. Children are supposed to be free, to play, scream, run around and just be children. Illness does all the things to the child that limits their ability to be children in the way they are meant to be. Sometimes they become restricted, stay for long periods in hospital, it keeps them in pain or constantly nauseated and feeling sick. It  limits their breathing, speech and the list is endless. For some kids, they have one or a few symptoms, for others, they have a combination of symptoms varying in duration and severity. Imagine how frustrating and annoying it must feel that your body just lets you down constantly. Imagine how frustrated they must feel when without any intention we imply that they should get on with it and be used to these feeling? No one can get used to being sick not even a child. For children with siblings, they are left confused about why they are the ones with the illness. They wonder why their symptoms do not reduce or why they cannot be cured, saved or rescued from whatever condition it is that they have.

All these feelings may not be easily expressed by the child. Here are some common reasons :

  • Sometimes children do not even realise why they feel frustrated leading to anger, resentment, hostility.
  • Some children feel demoralised as a result of their constantly ill health and experience a total loss of interest or zest for life.
  • Some children get too worried about worrying their parents and tend to bottle up their feelings leading to even more frustrations.. You see, your child loves you and as their health deteriorates do not only see your efforts, they feel your pain for their situation. They worry about you unknown to you and this worry can become a barrier becoming a stumbling block leading to an inability to let you in regarding their feelings.
  • Some children’s feelings get messed up by the effects of several medications in their blood stream. This may impair or aggravate their feelings.
  • Some children begin to get muddled up emotionally as their healths deteriorate because of the neurological effects of some health conditions in children.

Sometimes, unknown to us, kids see our fragility especially at times we think we try the most to hide our feelings from them. I always feel sometimes that they know more than they are letting on but with good reason. Unfortunately and unknown to the child, one thing that always erupt to the surface are unresolved feelings of pain, frustration, anger and so on. When these feelings erupt, parents, carers, or even Health care professionals (HCPs) can become the targets. For children well enough to still attend school we may stretch the list to include their classmates and teachers.

While we cannot really blame them for lashing out, we cannot also accommodate inappropriate behaviour especially when these outbursts becomes regular and unsafe. It becomes our duty to help them as best as we can. It is a difficult but not an impossible task. Here are some tips

  • Listen – Providing a listening ear to a sick child can be the one thing that will stop things deteriorating. By listening, you are able to detect the reason(s) for their sadness and frustrations. Knowing these may help you address them. Listening provides an opportunity for a you to reassure your child, calm their fears and refocus their thoughts. It is true that their illness may be incurable, life-threatening, life limiting thereby making them very delicate amongst other things. However, by listening you can give them the opportunity to half their problems. As a problem shared is halved. Expressing themselves can relieve the burden of bottling things up. This outcome although halfway to the intended outcome of resolving their feelings is better than no outcome at all.
  • Do not take things personal – Do not blame yourself for the attitude of your child. Try not to think in the first instance that the child is deliberately attacking you as a parent. Most of the things children say to their parents when they are unwell do not necessarily reflect on your parenting skills. Remember that  as much as you love your child, the illness is theirs. This in itself fuels the frustration which they may channel unfairly at you. Realising this fact can help keep you calmer in the face of a difficult episode.
  • Rest well – You cannot function properly as a carer if you do not get adequate rest. Caring for a sick child requires extreme levels of patience and tolerance especially if you are been targeted verbally by your child. Resting will give you the threshold you need to tolerate your child while you gradually work with them to help things improve.
  • Say the right things – Choose your words carefully when your child becomes unruly to you as a result of their health. The temptation is to lash out, to show them who is boss. Remember that two wrongs do not make a right. Therefore saying things that can calm your child down will be more beneficial to the situation compared to winding your child up. Tell them you love them and reassure them that your love remains in spite of their failing health.
  • Know when to be firm – You still need to take a firm stand with your child and set boundaries for what is and is not acceptable. It is important for your child to understand what you cannot tolerate and why. While it is quite difficult to be firm with an unwell child who is struggling, it is important to find a way to let your child know at the earliest opportunity.
  • Pay attention – It is in the littlest hints that children drop that the biggest clues about how they are feeling can be hidden. When you notice any behaviour that is out of character you need to act on them as soon as you can safely do so. For example a child can suddenly begin to ignore you when you speak to them. An action as simple as that may really be nothing to worry about. However, if it becomes prolonged or directed at you then you need to address it. It may be a sign that your child is unhappy and seeking your attention without even realising it. Respond appropriately by listening and speaking calmly.
  • Speak calmly – it is very frustrating to try to communicate with children who are unwell or any other child for that matter when they are attention seeking. For a sick child, always remember how delicate the child is irrespective of their behaviour. You need to talk to them patiently and calmly to help you understand them. If you are harsh they may curl back into their own shells. You want to be able to help your child through the feelings they are experiencing. You can do this easily if you keep them talking and you keep listening and giving wise, and helpful encouragement.
  • Get help – If your child’s behaviour becomes impossible to get under control then you may need to get professional help. Don’t feel this means you have failed as a parent. Getting help is the best chance your child needs to make a successful recovery. Speak with the HCPs handling your child’s care for example the lead consultant. They will assess the situation and refer appropriately. Many parents worry about losing their children. This seldom happens. When help is sought early, it can help nip things in the bud either by bringing solutions or providing strategies to help parent and their children get through these difficulties.

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