10 ways to help you and your child through any turmoil
There is little in life more stressful than a child health crisis. Watching our children upset or suffering is worse than when we ourselves are hurt or ill.
It breaks our hearts when our kids are sick, or their hearts broken by a crush, not getting picked for a team or by a co-parent who doesn’t show up when they said they would. It’s even more difficult when a crisis is extremely serious, like getting diagnosed with a chronic illness or if they develop a long-lasting mental health condition like an eating disorder.
I have a client and friend who has a child with an eating disorder. And having dealt with similar issues with my own children, as well as other heartbreaking turbulences, I first want to say: I see you. I feel you. I’ve been there. I am there.
When dealing with a child in crisis, like in the example of them having an eating disorder, it affects every single person in the family. It’s not just the child, it’s not just the parent, or the two together, it’s every human in the household that feels the ripple effect. It’s like an elephant living in the home that everyone sees and interacts with, but in their own different way.
Here are some ways you can try to navigate your child’s crisis with calm that have worked for my clients and myself.
#1: Know that your child’s health crisis is not your fault.
I repeat, whatever your child is going through right now, it is not your fault. Their condition is bigger and deeper than any one person can be at fault for.
You are responsible for your child’s wellbeing, and you do everything you can to ensure it, but not a single person could ever shelter someone from everything negative that might happen.
#2: Get resources and trust the process.
We can fix physical owies with a kiss and Spiderman bandaid. Broken toys can be fixed with glue. But the human mind and body is complex, and it takes time. The path to health, much like life itself, is a marathon, not a sprint.
You are not the only thing or person your child needs to heal. Find others that can support you and your child. Find literature, resources and tools. The finding and deploying of resources will calm your nervous system because you’ll feel you’re doing all you can to help your child. Action lessens anxiety.
When you have everything in place, there’s a dreaded period of time where it’s not fixed yet. This is hard for most parents to come to terms with. We have been their savior since they were born. We’ve fed them, cleaned them, consoled, cuddled, helped with homework and more. But when they need more than just us, we need to not be so hard on ourselves that we aren’t able to fix it with a bandaid, hug or a special date with mom (though those things can definitely help!)
#3: Even if you can’t fix it, you can soothe it.
Sometimes we get so focused on solving a problem for our children as fast as possible that we forget that sometimes problems are complex and take time. This causes us incredible anxiety. Change your thinking to something you can do – to soothe your child’s experience. If they’re in the hospital, sit by their bed and read their favorite stories. Be more physical if your child enjoys affection and add more hugs and cuddles into the day. Add more talk time into the day. Your love and time are the most valuable things you can give, and I’m willing to bet it will make you feel better, too!
#4: Take care of you, so you can take care of them.
You need to (continue or start) taking care of your mind, body and spirit so you can show up fully for your child and their needs, and any other children in your household as well.
A child health crisis and the ensuing emotions can take a great toll on our energy. Don’t neglect yourself. You don’t need to self-sacrifice to the point you’ve lost what fills your spirit. In fact, this is the most important time to focus on you, so you can show up for your family.
When you’re not in a good place, psychologically, emotionally, or physically, your family can’t rely on you. And as a mother, we know that when we’re not in a good place, then the family isn’t in a good place either.
Here are some Taking Care of You Tips that have worked with my clients and myself.
- Talk to someone. Get your worries and fears and dark energy out of you. Even if someone hasn’t been in your shoes, confide in someone you trust who can hold your heart.
- Journal. Another safe place you can share is in your journal. Let everything pour out of you. I’m a writer and it helps me so much to process my emotions and go through my reflections to have journaling as an outlet.
- Stay hydrated and eat healthy. I’ve noticed a trend with parents of kids with eating disorders in particular. They start to disconnect from their own relationship with food. Now more than ever is the time to model healthy eating and drinking habits! Staying hydrated helps every cell in your body and we need water to survive. Dehydration will only make things worse and when the body is under stress, it dehydrates quicker than normal. One of my clients skips breakfast regularly and her daughter started skipping breakfast. Whether it was because her daughter thought it was okay or was trying to use that as a way to keep her calorie reduction low, she saw her mom’s habit as an invitation for her to do the same. I shared with my client that she doesn’t have to start eating breakfast, but that she needs to model good input of calories and meals throughout the day to show that she makes up for the lack of food at breakfast time.
- Keep your exercise routines going (or start one. Walks are a great way to move your body, get the blood flowing, and to clear your mind).
#5: Accept the roller coaster.
Supporting a child health crisis is going to feel like too much at times. Other times you’ll feel like you have a handle on it and you’ve got this (hint: you do). But it can feel like a roller coaster. One day starts with confidence and ends with you feeling like you’ve made no progress and aren’t getting anywhere. Accepting there will be ups and downs will make it easier to tolerate.
#6: Consistency is key.
Your child needs to know what to expect from you. There is safety in consistency. There is confidence in consistency. Just like when kids are little and they know what to expect for the day, kids of all ages also need to know what to expect from their interactions with you. No-one ever reacts “perfectly” all the time, but if you are cognizant of at least doing things the same way from day to day, your child will feel more secure.
#7: Let other life in.
Whether your child has an eating disorder or another health-related issue, it’s easy to hyper-focus on the condition or issues, and we forget to also talk about “regular life” stuff. Your child is more than their condition. Their condition does not define them.
Open up space for topics that aren’t just about their health crisis. Celebrate wins – congratulate them on a job well done in other areas of their life. Life should not be 100% about their burden. It will lead to an extremely dark time if you spend all yours and your child’s energy on negativity. There are other lights and amazing things going on in the world. Bring in the light when you can.
#8: Share (briefly) about your situation with your broader world (as needed).
By sharing your situation, I’m not saying to tell everyone you know about your child’s struggles. Their anonymity is important. What I mean is that you should let people know in general – your boss, your friends, your extended family members, that your family is going through a tough time, and you may not be as available or as “on it” as you usually are. Let people know you may be slower to respond to emails, texts and projects. Trust me, as a COO and Human Resources Director, your company wants to know so they can understand and support your situation.
Tell friends that you may retreat and not be great with communications for a bit. They will understand.
#9: Communicate with your partner.
If you have a partner, talk to them about how you will go about supporting your child with meals, doctor’s and/or therapists appointments, work schedules, and increased time you both should spend with your child.
#10: Give yourself grace.
You’re not going to feel 100% all the time going through this, and that’s okay. It’s a lot. Forgive yourself for not being 100% on point all of the time due to the stress of a health crisis. Give yourself space and understanding to grieve the (at least temporary) loss of normalcy in life and allow yourself the same compassion as you would a best friend going through the same thing.
Although I’m not a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist or doctor of any kind (besides a doctor in calm, sorry not sorry, I couldn’t help it) I’m here for you.
These tips are what I’ve shared with my clients that have been helpful and that have worked for me as well.
If you or a loved one’s has a child health crisis, please know I wish and hope for their recovery. I’m here if you need to talk. I can help you to create an infrastructure for yourself for self-care and for managing the emotional and psychological weight of supporting a child in crisis, specifically surrounding an eating disorder.
Note: If your child is suffering from body dysmorphia or an eating disorder, seek psychological help immediately. and if you find yourself needing additional support, please get professional help to support you on this journey.
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Reach out, I’m here for you.
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