Why don’t children get any information?
Children very much need information and someone to help them to talk about what is happening, they may need guidance on how to cope.
Sometimes adults in the family, or friends of the family feel that children are going to be upset by a discussion of what has happened and so they decide not to discuss it.
The medical/support/therapeutic staff that are supporting the brain injured adult may not be trained to deal with children and fear that they do not have the skills with which to effectively explain things to the children, so they avoid interacting. It is usual for no staff to check up on the well-being of the child.
There are very few resources for the children of brain injured parents, it is quite likely that they will be offered no support at all.
What do children understand about brain Injury?
Children need information to make sense of what has happened to their parent. They may be very confused and saying ‘your mother is very ill’ is not specific enough. The child may have no concept of what that means or that their parent may never fully recover, they need someone to acknowledge that the home is very different and to explain why.
What should I say to my child?
Children of different age groups process things differently. Of course every child is an individual in a particular context and will experience their situation differently. It is important to provide children with information which is tailored to them as best you can.
The children in the family have had their attachment to their parent disrupted, sometimes severed. They may feel powerless to help, or unable to connect with this new version of their parent. They also will have far less sophisticated means of making any peace with letting go of that which is gone and accepting the new, than an adult would have.
Before talking to your child ask them what they already understand about the injury and about what is happening now, and what the future holds. Find out if they have particular concerns or questions, this can help guide your conversation.
Do explain the injury, and its impact.
Don’t minimise what has happened or act like everything is normal.
Do reassure your child and explain that none of what is happening is their fault, and also that they are not also going to get ill.
Don’t give the impression that the injured person is about to make a full recovery if that isn’t the case.
Do also focus on the injured person’s strengths and the support that is available for you all.
Do invite questions.
Do give hugs.
Children may ask some uncomfortable questions, or have difficult and perhaps ambivalent feelings about their injured parent, it might be upsetting for both of you – but being upset under these circumstances is normal and appropriate, and it is helpful to be able to talk things through.
You may feel unequipped to deal with your children’s emotions or processes but remember your willingness to engage and be present, listen, and be a warm presence in their lives is more important than the actual content of any conversation you may have.
What Else Can Help?
Additionally, try to keep their routines as stable as possible, explain the situation to the school and try to find out about any help you may be eligible for in terms of support or childcare. Your child will best be supported by you if you are well – this means getting rally good at self-care so that you are able to best regulate your own thinking and emotions.