Talking to young children
It is important for parents not to delay telling their child what has happened and to be prepared to talk to them in a way that is relevant to their age, without causing them unnecessary distress or anxiety.
This can be quite a challenge if you are the parent at home, especially if you are still trying to deal with your own emotions.
It might help you to communicate difficult news to a young child by drawing pictures or by some form of play activity using a doll or teddy to indicate the nature of the injury, so they can understand what has happened more easily.
The Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) has published two fictional books for young children, “Are we there yet?” for children under six years and “Boots for a Bridesmaid” for children aged five to eight years. The illustrations in each show a wheelchair-using parent living a normal family life and may give material for conversations with young children about the impact of spinal cord injury.
Your child’s school should also be informed about what has happened, so that the teacher can keep a close eye on them and monitor whether they are showing any signs of unhappiness or distress.
Depending on the child’s age, they may feel fearful and confused as to why a parent or sibling is in hospital. They may also feel insecure, especially if they are being looked after by other family members or friends for long periods of time. Sometimes children feel shut out from the grown-up world and the less they understand or are told, the more worried they become.
It is important to let your child know that they haven’t done anything wrong. Their understanding will be very limited and they will want reassurance that both their mummy and daddy love them very much and that they are safe and secure. If children’s worries are not addressed early they could turn to unfounded feelings of guilt that somehow it is their fault.
“My parents had to spend a long time with my sister in hospital so I was passed from one relative to another and when my parents did come home, they were always crying”.
“My son has a very hard time and regularly asks me to just “try and walk”. He sees the legs there and can’t understand why they don’t work. When the accident occurred, my husband made a puppet for him and then cut the string which made the legs work – we think it may have helped him to understand a bit better”.