"If a parent gets hysterical when a child gets a cut, the child gets hysterical. If the parent radiates calm, the child feels more secure. Sometimes a child only starts screaming once he observes the parent getting upset."
Dr. Elizabeth Goldman
Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City
Pediatricians recommend parents communicate a feeling of calm and confidence to a sick or injured child. "Kids learn coping skills from their parents. A child needs a parent who is in control and nurturing," says Dr. Kathie Teets Grimm, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Children's Advocacy Center of Manhattan.
But some parents find it hard to keep their cool. Caring for an ill or injured child can provoke feelings of great anxiety and helplessness, especially because children experience pain and illness so intensely. "The parent's dilemma is caused by the fact that we can't make things better as fast as our children would like us to. And as quickly as we would like to, as well," comments Susanna Neumann, Ph.D., a psychologist consultant with Rockefeller University in New York City.
At times, when parents get upset around sick children, kids grow more upset as well. "I can always tell when a visit to the doctor will go well and when it won't - just based on how the parent is behaving," adds Dr. Grimm. Fortunately, the ideas below may help you to calm and center yourself, so you can help your kids.
Remind yourself that it's normal for kids to get sick. And remember they will naturally get better. Staying aware of this fact may help you (and them) calm down.
Calm your emotions by breathing easily. Try inhaling and then exhaling slowly and fully. "I always advise parents that everything will go better if they can calm down, take a few deep breaths first, and then focus on what is happening with the kids," says Dr. Benjamin Kligler.
Calm your mind by gathering accurate information. Knowing the facts will help you relax. Call your doctor to get an assessment of your child's situation and to get answers to your questions. You can also go online or look up your child's symptoms in a reference book, although experts advise that you never self-diagnose. Understanding the specifics of an illness or condition can help you feel in control of the situation.
Explain the illness or injury to your child. Telling your child in clear, simple, age-appropriate ways what is happening will not only help him understand - it will also help you. The act of discussing it in tangible terms starts to decrease everyone's anxiety level.
Remember what it was like when you got sick as a kid. Be aware that your own memories of childhood illness may affect how you communicate with your child. You might ask yourself if any past experiences are affecting how you are caring for your own child. Then, ask yourself how you might choose to do things differently. "You could write down a few ideas, as a way of putting them into your own memory bank," recommends Susanna Neumann, Ph.D.