Children require honesty
Family centred care is essential when caring for a sick child. The impact of illness touches everyone therefore the family is the unit of care rather than the child being separated out without consideration of the whole family.
It is important to remember that parents should be recognized as being experts as far as their child’s needs are concerned acknowledging that they know their child the best. It is also important to remember that they also carry the burden of both the illness and the decision making.
As adults we are able to articulate our needs, for children it is harder to express what they need. Often children will display behaviour which is not usual for them. They become withdrawn, cry or scream. Their play may alter and they may act out and changes can often be seen in their drawings both in topic and colour choices.
Children are very good at being able to interpret the behaviour of those around them, gaining insight into their condition. Sick children make use of various coping mechanisms, as do we as adults when dealing with issues of pain, fear and anxiety. The coping mechanisms are dependant on the developmental age and understanding of the child.
Children often try to protect their parents and other adults in their lives. They often perceive that the topic they wish to discuss is too uncomfortable or stressful for the adults they love. Therefore they may deny the reality of their situation to protect those around them.
The emotional link that parents have with their children in most cases allows them to feel safe. Therefore, it is important for parents and health professionals to encourage open communication while respecting their right to privacy in regard to their thoughts and emotions. The use of play and artwork allows the child to express themselves concerning issues that may be troubling them. It is important not to make assumptions about what a child knows or understands.
Children who live with illness require the adults in their lives to be honest and real. They need us to listen, giving them time to share their thoughts and feelings. As a health professional I am mindful of providing care and support to families to enhance their quality of life as they live with the impact of illness.