Few things are harder than hearing your child has an illness or condition that can cause them pain. As parents, we want our children to enjoy full health and protect them from suffering if we can. While most doctors and practitioners are compassionate and try to provide helpful information with the diagnosis, most do not have the time to answer every question or listen to every concern, at least in one visit.
Regardless of the severity of the illness or whether it is temporary or permanent, here are five things you can do to cope with the news of your child's illness or condition.
Do reach out
Talking to other people who understand what you are going through can ease a lot of worry. For most conditions or illnesses there are support groups that can offer the opportunity to meet and talk to other people who may know what you are feeling.
Do become educated
Learning all you can from reputable sources can help you worry less and empower you to properly care for your child. This doesn't mean you need to understand everything about their condition all at once. However, as your child's advocate, gaining knowledge about their condition helps you ask appropriate questions and understand the available treatments.
Do allow yourself time to grieve
If your child has enjoyed full health prior to the diagnosis, grief is a normal response to that loss and working through the grief can take time. Don't be surprised if you feel shock, anger and sadness. "Going through the grieving process is the best way to cope with a ... diagnosis. By giving yourself, your child, and your family permission to grieve, you will be able to cope." For more information, check the Health Library.
Don't try to live your child's life in one day
We learned our daughter would be born with a cleft lip and palate during a routine ultrasound. I soon learned she would need at least two surgeries to repair her lip and mouth once she was born. I also learned most children with cleft lip and palate can have recurring ear infections and require speech therapy, as well as need extensive orthodontic treatment. No wonder I felt overwhelmed! When a child is born "healthy," we don't tell parents, "She'll break her leg at age 4, need glasses when she's 6 and want to carry her blanket into every public place!" We take our children as they come, one day at a time.
Do celebrate your child
Remember they are more than their illness or condition. Look for ways to acknowledge their unique talents and gifts as well as show them how important they are to you. Even when the diagnosis is of a life threatening condition, you can create fun "time-outs" for you and your child. When my son was in the hospital I brought in a music player to the hospital to counteract the noise of IV pumps. I also took time for stories so his entire day was not spent with medical tests. "You must always look at your child like the first day you found out that you were becoming a parent. Have that same joy inside of you, and your child flourishes," says Kami Evans, My Child Has Special Needs.
It can be a difficult time when your child receives a diagnosis. Reaching out and learning about the illness can help ease the worry. Allowing time to grieve and accepting the changes one day at a time can provide peace. Remembering your child is more than their condition can help you to celebrate their life.