"Talking with your child about something he enjoys can be enormously healing. It's more useful than pointing out how 'whiney' he's is. This keeps things positive and future-oriented."
Mary Mathews, LCSW
Director of Family Programs, Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago
An important step in helping your child heal is thinking ahead to the time that he will be well. This helps your child develop a positive outlook on what may have been a challenging time.
One technique you might try is helping your child imagine himself well. This strategy, called visualization, is used by child-life specialists in hospitals around the country.
"It's possible and very helpful to get kids to visualize being healthy," says Genevieve Lowry, a child-life specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Lowry, who helps children use visualization in her hospital practice, suggests you start by saying to your child, "You are not always going to have this cold, so let's think about a time in the future when you are all better.'"
Lowry advises that the child needs to be a willing partner for this game to work. You might engage him by saying, "Would you like to hear about something that could make you feel better?" If your child seems skeptical or resistant, Lowry suggests you tell him, "Your brain is the smartest part of your body. It tells you when to breathe, and it can also help you feel better. You can use your brain to think yourself well."
Start by thinking of something your child loves to do. Then ask your child to picture himself in that setting and to describe what he sees. Children experience the world with all of their five senses. Therefore, Lowry recommends you ask some (but not necessarily all) of the following sensory-based questions to help a child visualize becoming healthy again:
Use visualization in many situations. Try it with a child who is sick in bed, has a broken ankle or leg, or is troubled by nightmares and wants a more peaceful way to dream.
Help your child relax before you begin. Ask your child to lie down or sit comfortably. Suggest he take a couple of deep breaths and let them out slowly, and do the same yourself. You might also offer to massage him or put a cold compress on the area in pain. This kind of action offers opportunities for closeness and reduces anxiety for all.
Approach it indirectly with older kids. An older, more skeptical child might be resistant to this technique, so it may work better to "sneak" visualization into the conversation. For example, if a child has a sprained ankle, you might drive by a skating rink and ask, "Who do you want to invite to go skating as soon as your ankle is better?" If a child has the flu, you might casually say, "What's the first thing you want to do when you get well?"