If you are not in the habit of talking to your children about how you are feeling, it is hard to start in a crisis. But now, more than ever, its important to try. Parents can provide an opening for discussion by simply stating how much they miss their other children, for example, "I really miss you when I have to take your sister to the hospital. I'll call you every night just so I can hear your voice," or, "Sometimes I really get mad at the cancer. I wish the family didn't have to be separated so much."
It is also helpful to tell your child with leukemia how the illness is affecting her siblings, for example, "It is very hard for Jim to stay at home with a baby-sitter when I bring you to the hospital. Lets try to think of something nice to do for him." Such statements not only reassure children of your continued love for them and distress about being separated from them, but create an opportunity for them to share with you how they feel about what is happening to the family.
My daughter, diagnosed at 1 year old and now entering fifth grade, has three older siblings, so we have been through many developmental stages as far as communication goes. I try to answer their questions honestly, but I only tell them what I think they can understand without overwhelming them with information. I remember one of my boys, soon after my daughter's diagnosis, asked me if she was going to die, and I said "no" emphatically. I regretted it immediately, and realized that I would have to deal with my fears about the possibility of her dying, then go back and tell him the truth. So, later, I told him that I hadn't given an accurate answer because I was scared; that we didn't know if she was going to die.We hoped not, but we would have to wait and see.
I have found that as their understanding deepens, they come back with more questions, needing more detailed answers. So, my motto is, be honest, but don't scare them. If you say everything is okay, but you are crying, they know something is wrong, and that they can't trust you for the truth.
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