Dealing with hospitalized pediatric patients can be both challenging and rewarding. Depending on the stage of development the child is in, are required to manage his or her hospital stay. But just paying attention to the needs of the child is not enough. Parents and loved ones often show signs of stress and anxiety which can be mirrored in the child’s behavior. Ignoring the child’s loved ones can result in increased feelings of stress and anxiety for the entire family. And this can result in frustration and taxing situations for you!
Here are some tips to help you recognize and address signs of worry and strain in parents of young children from birth through the preschool years:
LISTEN FOR SIGNS OF ANXIETY
When parents mention they are not sleeping well, are having trouble concentrating, are feeling irritable or are worrying about bad things happening, that can be a warning sign that the current situation might be taking a toll.
If the parents’ concerns are addressed early on, they may be in a better emotional frame of mind going forward, which in turn could enable them to attend to their child in a more soothing way. Their child will most likely sense this and may become calmer.
EXPLAIN THE PROCESS
Clarify what is happening with their child’s care using words that the parent can understand. Ask the child life specialist or the social worker to spend some time with the family. These specialists are trained in relating medical situations and diagnosis to both children and adults in simple and easy to understand ways. Once parents understand the medical circumstances and treatment processes better, they may become more relaxed.
Reassure the parents that the best thing they can do for their children is to be the same mom or dad that they are at home. They can still discipline the child for negative behavior and reinforce positive ones. In fact, keeping the same discipline styles used at home can be reassuring for children around the preschool age and can help make them feel more secure in the strange and different hospital setting.
TAKE A TIME FOR THEMSELVES
Self-care is a necessary part of the parent’s role. It’s like the oxygen mask instructions in an airplane: to take care of the child, the parents must first take care of themselves! It may be as simple as asking a neighbor to watch the patient’s siblings for a while or walking outside for some fresh air. If the parents tend to some of their own needs, they may have more energy and emotional equilibrium to help manage the toddler’s fears and anxieties.
The parent may be hesitant to ask questions for fear of being chastised because they do not know. Once the parents know they can look to someone who can answer their questions and concerns without judgement they may become more self-confident. This can lead to them becoming more comfortable being involved in their child’s care.
A hospital stay can be traumatic for the entire family. In fact, a study has shown that those caring for hospitalized children have a higher degree of stress than other relatives. By equipping yourself with the tools we have offered, you are in a better position to help soothe the parent’s fears and anxieties which can lead to a more positive healing environment for the children.