Six ways to start and keep the conversation going.
If you’re a parent living with pain, it’s easy to clam up around your children about how much and why you hurt. But that’s not a good idea. Kids worry a lot. They are very perceptive, and they can see that you aren’t well, says psychotherapist Ranjan Roy, a professor of social work and clinical health psychology at the University of Manitoba, in Canada, and author of Chronic Pain and Family (Springer 2006). If you don’t say anything to them, they just worry in silence.
While it’s critical to talk to kids of all ages, it’s not always easy to know what to say or how much to reveal. Use these simple statements as a guide to starting a conversation. And remember, this is not a one-time deal, stresses Roy. Keep talking to them.
SAY THIS: Here’s what’s happening with me:
Don’t try to hide your pain. Tell your kids about your condition and that you have pain, how it feels and what you need to do to find relief. Be factual, but also be aware of what your kids can handle at their age and maturity level, says John Otis, PH.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at Boston University School of Medicine. Preschoolers, for instance, will understand boo-boo better than nerve pain. Older kids can usually handle more specific terms, such as I have fibromyalgia, followed by a brief explanation if your child wants to know more.
SAY THIS: I know this might be hard on you.
Children are likely to experience a range of emotions, from neglect to anger to depression. Acknowledge their loss, says Roy. And be patient if your kids can’t articulate their frustration. You may have to tease it out of them over time.
SAY THIS: I am still your parent and I want to know what’s going on with you.
When one parent lives with pain, family dynamics aren’t the same, says Roy. Day-to-day events homework, dance recitals, sleepovers can get lost during the times you’re hurting. Tell your kids that your pain doesn’t mean you’re not interested in their lives. Kids want to know they’re loved, Otis says. They want to know you’ll be there for them. Let them know that.
SAY THIS: I have pain, but that doesn’t mean I love you less.
You may not realize it, but a kid can interpret a parent’s pain as Dad is pulling away, or Mom is disinterested, Otis says. Reassurance that you love them is important for kids of any age. Younger children may need lots of hand-holding and cuddling, says Roy, but make sure no kid is neglected emotionally or physically.
SAY THIS: Some days I feel better than other days, so I’ll need you to:
Key to making your kids feel secure is setting expectations. That might mean letting them know that sometimes you need them to be very quiet or to make their own breakfast when you’re feeling particularly bad. Explain to older kids (school-age and beyond) that you will ask them for help when you really need it.