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When Life Throws You a Curve Ball

Talking with your children about a loved one's hospitalization

Be honest. Listen to their questions. Answer in terms they understand. That was the mantra I repeated to myself to prepare for one of my most dreaded conversations ever. 

Last week I got the sudden call my father had a stroke. I rushed up to be with him. A few days later we had the very optimistic news he was on the road to recovery. I then headed home to tell my kids what happened and get them ready to visit grandpa.

My boys are 6, 4 and 2. My 6-year-old is very perceptive. My 4-year-old does whatever his older brother does. Telling them both together, I was framing a conversation for a 6-year-old while making sure I catered to the difference in the emotional maturity of my 4-year-old. I was also anxious. For their benefit, I had to be calm and not impose any of my anxiety on them — not so easy.

When I went to start the conversation, my two older boys started fighting over something inane. They were upset and unfocused. It was not the way I wanted to have this talk. I was also getting very frustrated and knew my tone was reflective of that frustration. Knowing the way you present information can be as critical as the information itself, I decided we needed a complete change of venue.

We went for a walk. Fresh air did the trick and the bickering ceased. Starting the conversation, all I knew was I had to be honest and speak in terms they would understand. I started by telling them we were going to the hospital today to visit grandpa. They knew he had a boo boo and I let them know the type of boo boo he has is called a stroke. I explained to them it is a boo boo on the brain but they wouldn’t see the boo boo, it is on the inside.

We then went on to talk about what we would see. We would see the same exact grandpa that we know and love but he would be in bed. He would have some tubes in his arms giving him medicine. He is tired and not moving so great right now. His words are also coming out a little funny so sometimes it is hard to understand him.

The first thing my oldest wanted to know was if he could still play checkers with grandpa. I told him yes. He then went on to tell me how grandpa taught him checkers and all the rules but the most important rule was to have fun. The concept of rules resonated with the boys and led to a talk about the rules of hospital.

We talked about how we talk softly in a hospital. We don't scream, we don't fight and we don't touch anything without asking first. What we were allowed to touch is grandpa. Hugs, kisses, high fives and fist bumps were encouraged. Pulling on anything is not.

Children are incredibly resilient. Scary events will always happen. How you frame them, helps them understand the situation. Always be honest and let their questions guide. There were a lot of questions they didn't ask which I thought they would. I was prepared to answer if they did. They were a little hesitant to enter his room but once inside, they all had a great visit. Best part for my oldest was playing checkers with grandpa. Best part for me, grandpa didn’t let him win.

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