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Crisis and Stabilization

A mother and her son

The more the family rallies round, the better the parent who is either physically or emotionally injured, or both, may do. And even when the outcome is unknown and reassurance is hard to give, your child needs to be offered the chance to be hopeful.

There may be very little information available at first. Don't give false assurances if you don't know — but do be reassuring: "Mom has been injured. The good thing is that she's at a hospital now with doctors who know how to take care of her. They are working hard to help her get better."

Do your best to manage your own anxiety and to protect your child from information he doesn't need. Think through what you're going to say to him before you say it as well as what you're going to say during family phone calls. It might help to talk with a friend, parent, advisor, doctor or clergyperson.

There will be difficult decisions to make. Whatever you decide, prepare your child and, as always, be reassuring. You can say, "I'm going to see dad to see how I can help. You'll be staying with grandma (or in military housing near the hospital, or whatever arrangements you've made). And remember, we all love you!"

Routines are still important! Wherever your child will be, try to make sure that at least some familiar routines are followed. Bring a beloved object, such as a favorite blanket or toy. This will give him a greater sense of security. Remember to assure your child that his parent’s injury is not his or anyone’s fault. It can happen with this kind of job.

To many young children, time and attention equal love, pure and simple. Give your child as much time as possible, under the circumstances. If you're away, phone often. You can e-mail photos of yourself, the recuperating parent (if appropriate), the doctors and the hospital building. Listen to your child's worries — and also to his everyday news.

As time passes, keep communication going, updating as appropriate. Although it's important to be careful with the amount of information you offer your child, do try to talk with him about what is happening. Remember, your young one's imagination will fill in any vacuum, and that may be far worse. Offer hope: "It may take a while before we know everything, but our family will get through this together."

Consult with medical and support staff about the appropriate time for your child to see his injured parent. This will depend on his developmental level and emotional maturity. Get help on how to prepare your child for his parent's appearance. He will need to know in advance about tubes, machines, bandages, and so forth, as well as the fact that there will be other injured service members nearby. The recuperating parent may look and/or act very different from the one he remembers.

If a visit is appropriate, don't force touches and hugs, which may be scary at first. Let your child set a comfortable pace.

Even if your child can't yet visit the injured parent, he can draw pictures to hang up, offer a stuffed animal to put on the hospital bed or record a song to share.

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