Parenting through Pain
By Carla Foote
Unexpected events that intrude into our lives can quickly upset the rhythm and daily routines for preschoolers and their families. Getting the phone call that an elderly parent is dying, getting notice that a job is ending, or receiving an unexpected diagnosis can lead to significant stress for both parents and children. After the initial shock, figuring out how to navigate both the personal and family ramifications of a crisis situation can be overwhelming.
Each person will have a different emotional, physical and practical response to such a situation, but here are a few principles that helped our family navigate these situations when they invaded our family life.
As parents, often our first impulse is to protect our children from difficult information. Certainly we need to keep our discussions age-appropriate and not overburden young children with adult levels of stress. However, children are very astute to the emotional climate of the home and if they receive no communication about issues, their fears may escalate. A simple, direct conversation at a time when the parent can sit with the child and be close is the best way to communicate difficult information.
Even if your child has no immediate reaction to what has been communicated, it is helpful as a parent to remain open to questions from your child. These questions might come even days or even weeks later and may seem unusual based on your childís perception of the event. For example, when a young friend of ours was killed in a tragic situation, it was several months later that my daughter asked specifically about what had happened to his body. She was trying to sort it out in her mind and she needed more information. I really didnít want to relive the tragedy, but I answered her question as honestly and simply as I could.
Along with clear and honest communication within your family, involve your childrenís teachers and provide them with the information they need to support your children appropriately.
Reach out rather than withdraw
During a difficult family time it is tempting to retreat behind closed doors and not let friends and neighbors even know about our pain. However, the healthiest way for your family to navigate difficult situations is to reach out and be open to receiving help. Most friends are willing to help but may not need to know your specific needs. Ask someone to take your children for a couple hours for a play date on the weekend so you can have a physical and emotional break. By recognizing your own needs and asking for support, you will be better equipped to persevere.
Young children (and adults) derive emotional health from the predictable routines of their day. Mealtime, naptime, reading time, cuddling and bedtime are markers in their lives that provide consistency and a sense of security. As much as you can realistically continue these routines even when confronted with personal or family crises, they will contribute to the emotional health of your family.
Some crisis situations require professional resources. Explore local mental health resources to get the help you and your family need to thrive. MOPS.org/help also has resource articles for many difficult situations such as grief and economic hardship.