FROM THE SUPERINTENDENT’S DESK
When A Parent Needs Medical Tests, Should Children Be Told?
If you find that you require medical tests or learn that you have a health condition that may keep you from your regular activities for a while, what do you tell your children?
Unfortunately, there are no simple answers, because each situation is different — and so is every child. There are, however, a few guidelines you can consider if you find yourself in this position.
Whether a parent is ill or simply requires testing to determine whether a more serious medical condition exists, children are likely to be anxious. They may not articulate their feelings, but often, children worry that a sick parent may become unable to care for them, or even die. While this is normal — since children aren’t able to reason like adults — it is important for parents to be aware of what children may be experiencing during times when health concerns are consuming much of their mom’s and dad’s time and energy.
A parent may wonder whether to wait until more information is available before telling children anything at all — and in some cases, this may be the wisest choice. The most important question you need to ask yourself is whether your child is likely to observe differences in your normal routine.
Children — even older children — need routine and consistency in order to feel comfortable, safe and protected. Well-meaning parents who wish to protect their children sometimes feel it’s best not to say anything at all, hoping the child will not notice the changes. If your health concerns disrupt your normal activities in any significant way, however, your children may benefit from having some knowledge about what’s going on.
Explaining to your child that your doctor would like you to have some routine testing, or that you will be in bed or in the hospital for a few days, can alleviate your child’s anxiety. When children know parents are including them in what’s going on, they’re likely to feel more confident, and are less inclined to imagine the worst. You can explain to your children, without going into detail, that these precautions will help you rest and feel better so that you can play with them again soon.
It may also be a good idea to inform your child’s teacher about your health situation. When changes take place in the home, children often have difficulty concentrating in school. Talking with teachers can provide them with the insight they need to understand if your child needs a little extra support during this time. Be sure to tell the teacher exactly what you’ve explained to your child, so the information your child receives doesn’t conflict with what you’ve said or cause confusion.
There are no clear answers when it comes to talking with your children about these kinds of situations. Keeping in mind that children are often more perceptive than we realize, and that changes in routine can impact them significantly, however, can help you make the decision that is right for your family. #
Dr. Carole Hankin is the superintendent of Syosset Schools, Long Island N.Y.