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Home » Communicating with Sick Kids »

How Children React


Kid (screaming): I'll never get well! | Mom: Sounds like you feel pretty terrible.

Don't Expect Your Child to Be Logical

"If a child is very upset, do not argue or challenge his feelings. Instead, empathize and engage him in a comforting activity. Only after he's calm should you try to talk logically and realistically."

Dr. Stanley Greenspan

Author, The Secure Child

Kids experience pain and illness differently from adults:

Your sick child may regress a little emotionally. He may not communicate as well with you when he is sick. "Some kids who are usually very verbal will become less articulate when they are sick or injured. Tailor your communication strategy to your child's feelings and mood," recommends Susanna Neumann, Ph.D.

Your child may not describe his illness accurately. This can make it hard to diagnose the problem. "A child complaining that her head hurts might really be describing an earache, because the pain's not localized to her ear. Or she might say, 'I'm not hungry,' when she's really nauseous," comments Dr. Elizabeth Goldman, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

Your child may not be aware that he will get well. "Young children don't usually know that pain or illness will eventually lessen and go away, because they don't have the life experience to remember that this will happen," says Dr. Benjamin Kligler. Children also live in the present, and don't have the ability to distance themselves or examine a situation with perspective.

Your child may blame you for his illness. He might get angry because you are not able do something to make him well instantly. Underneath a child's outburst, he might really be saying, "Why don't you know what to do?" or, "I am doing my best but I know I'm not getting any better!" These outbursts can leave some parents feeling helpless or angry. "Try not to respond to the content of a child's outburst, but respond instead to the child's wish," recommends Susanna Neumann. "You might say, 'I too would like to make your throat stop hurting. I know you are doing your best to get better quickly.'" In this way you are acknowledging the child's unspoken desire, rather than reacting to his words.

How to Respond

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