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Communicating With Sick Kids

Mom: Your knee must hurt a lot. This ice pack will help.

Acknowledge How Your Child Feels

"A child will calm down if he feels he's been heard and that you understand. Sometimes simply saying 'I know' or 'Uh huh' is enough. Too many words can be distracting. Then, take an action to help him feel better."

Susanna Neumann, Ph.D.

Psychologist Consultant, Rockefeller University, New York City

Communicating with kids who have everyday illnesses and common injuries can be challenging. Parents often feel unsure of what to do or say. Sometimes, you just want to scream, "HELP!" yourself - but you're the one who's supposed to be in charge.

Experts recommend that you start by slowing down and taking a deep breath. "The healthiest way to communicate with a kid who is sick is to stay calm and be very aware of your own feelings," recommends family practitioner Dr. Benjamin Kligler. "Caring for a sick child doesn't require a parent to come up with a solution. However, it does require being there, waiting, and talking it through."

Kids tend to become less verbal, crankier, and louder when they are hurting. This can make talking difficult. Fortunately, understanding why children react this way helps parents communicate. "Children who are sick or injured may feel scared by what's happening. Sometimes this fear is expressed as anger," comments Dr. Stanley Greenspan, author of The Secure Child. "When a child is upset, stay calm and be empathetic. Help him talk about all his feelings and provide a realistic perspective of how he will feel better."

The expert-tested strategies in this guide were developed by a panel of leading physicians and child psychologists. Their ideas may help you talk to kids with common illnesses or injuries such as colds, stomachaches, high fevers, sprains and broken bones.

Basic Talking and Listening Strategies

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