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Home » Communicating with Sick Kids »

Basic Talking and Listening Strategies


Girl: Let's take your temperature! | Dad: Okay!

Playing Doctor Helps

"There is no better way to be there than to use imaginative play. This helps a child express his concerns, anticipate what will happen and turn worries into active coping."

Dr. Stanley Greenspan

Author, The Secure Child

Dr. Stanley Greenspan, author of The Secure Child, recommends the following approaches:

Provide extra nurturing to help your child feel secure. A child's sense of security comes from trust in her own body. When she is sick or injured, her body isn't working the way she expects it to. This can make her feel insecure. You can renew her sense of security by providing extra care and attention.

Encourage your child to express any concern. Feeling sick or being injured may bring up all kinds of worries in a child. Her feelings may range from fear that she will never get well to anger at you for not helping her get better faster. Acknowledge her thoughts and feelings in an age-appropriate way. Sometimes, a child may not express these feelings directly, but talk about what seem like unrelated concerns, such as something that happened with a friend or a fictional character on TV.

Encourage your child to describe her illness. You might ask a more verbal child to describe her condition, but ask a younger or less verbal one to point to what hurts. Don't talk down and make an older child feel like a baby, and try not to overwhelm your child with too many questions at once.

Help your child anticipate what will happen. You might start by asking your child what she thinks will happen. She may have expectations based on the last time she was sick or injured. Then, in simple terms, tell her what to expect - how you will go to the doctor, the hospital, or simply rest until a cold gets better. Don't overload her with information unless she asks for more. Encourage your child express how she feels, so the conversation is a discussion rather than a lecture.

Help your child develop a positive outlook. Start by asking your child when she thinks she will get well and how she will get better. Support positive thinking and help a frustrated or discouraged child by mentioning the concrete things she can do to recover, like get enough rest, take medicine and exercise. Reassure her that you and she will get through this together.

How Children React

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