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How to Cope When Your Child is Hospitalized

Child-sick-in-hospitalby Sue LeBreton

Caring for your child while they are in the hospital is a very stressful experience, especially when the period of hospitalization extends beyond a few days. Your worry about your child’s medical condition is compounded by living in a foreign environment and still trying to meet the demands of normal life.

Although you will be tempted to abandon all self care and expend every ounce of your energy toward caring for your sick child, this is not a great strategy. Remember the airline’s advice that you give yourself oxygen first so that you can care for your child during an in-flight emergency? Living in the hospital is similar. You need to practice self care in order to stay strong and healthy so that you can comfort and support your sick child. This is not easy for mothers because we go into “mother bear” mode as soon as our children are threatened in any way. However, extreme situations like this call for extreme self care. Here are some coping tips that helped me when I lived in the hospital for months while my daughter was undergoing chemotherapy.

  1. Bring some softness with you. Facial tissue in hospitals is often of lower quality so it becomes a valued comfort to have the softness of good tissue to wipe away tears for either you or the patient. Consider pillows or blankets from home to soothe you, just be sure to check with the hospital about rules around personal belongings.
  2. Go into nesting mode. If possible bring some toys or comfort objects from home. Posters or bright photos can break up the impersonal, sterile feeling of a hospital room.
  3. If you are in a shared room, make an effort preserve some semblance of privacy. Headphones allow you and your child to listen to music or movies without disturbing a roommate and vice versa.
  4. Take time away from the hospital. If you follow one tip, choose this one.  Perhaps you and your husband or another family member can take shifts at the hospital.
  5. Move. Stand up and stretch periodically. A short walk, ideally outside, will activate your feel good hormones and the change of scenery may alter your perspective.
  6. Keep in touch with friends and family on your terms. Use email, a blog or other electronic communication to update people about your child’s condition. This reduces the burden of repeating your story multiple times and eliminates the need to respond when you are tired or feeling emotionally fragile.
  7. Say yes to offers of help. This can be especially difficult if you are accustomed to being the giver. Save your energy for caring for your hospitalized child and offer others the pleasure of supporting you for a change.
  8. Allow your manners to slip, just a little. Most people do not expect a thank you for every gesture of kindness or support. Your energy is best directed at caring for your family right now. When the crisis has passed you can thank people as a group via an ad in your local paper, on your blog, or through the mass email list you created.
  9. Look for laughter. Try to find a way to laugh every day whether it is by watching a funny show, subscribing to a comedy podcast or reading the comics.
  10. Practice gratitude. Look for something to be grateful for each day. Writing down three things for which you are grateful will lift your spirits. Say thank you often to the medical staff caring for you and your family, it will help you all feel a bit better.
  11. Don’t be surprised if the stress affects your attention span. If you are a reader, magazines may be a better fit than books that require your full attention. Conversely, a truly escapist read may transport you from this situation for brief periods. Experiment and see which form helps you the most.
  12. When you leave the hospital for some respite, because you must, spend a few minutes doing something you love, something that makes you lose track of time. This will recharge your coping batteries.
  13. Breathe in for a count of four and exhale to a count of six. Repeat this for several minutes to activate your relaxation response. Practice this any time you notice that you are holding your breath.

Be kind to yourself during this trying time. Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend and you will shore up your emotional reserves so that you can care for your beloved child during their illness.

SueLeBreton is a freelance writer with two children. She continues to practice the self care she learned while living in hospital

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