Special Parenting Skills Are Needed For Raising Children With Health Issues

by Foster Cline, MD and Lisa Greene
Mom and Daughter"How's your diabetes doing, Mel?" And we remember her laughing reply, "Don't worry about it, Dad. It's all under control."
Then came the phone call. "Melinda was found dead in her apartment this morning."
Parents with healthy kids certainly have their work cut out for them, but the challenges they face might seem easy compared to parents who have to raise one or more children with special health problems. 
Often times, the most difficult challenges are all about communicating in trying circumstances where a frazzled parent might feel inclined to yell at a child. Parents can learn simple tools which will help them remain calm, cool and collected. Peace- producing tactics include:
1.      Ask children questions rather than give orders, demands and solutions.
  • How do you think this is likely to work out for you?
  • Do you think it would be wise to handle your feelings differently?
  • How might other kids handle this situation?
  • Are you thinking that summer school is in your future?
  • Do you think the way you are taking care of yourself will prolong (or shorten) your life?
2.      Share control by using choices, thinking words and enforceable statements.
  • Choices work like magic: Would you rather ___ or ____? You can either ____ or _____.  Feel free to ____or __.
  • Use thinking words instead of fighting words. Thinking words are a way of providing options instead of just saying no. “No, you can’t go play with the neighbor until your medical treatment is done” will result in a fight. Instead try: “Feel free to go play with Joey just as soon as you’re done with your medical treatment.” 
  • Use enforceable statements. Instead of telling children what they have to do (“Stop fussing and whining!”), tell them what you are willing to do (“I’ll listen as soon as your voice sounds calm like mine.”) That's enforceable!
 3.      Allow experiences to teach rather than lecturing, threatening, warning, ranting, raving and rescuing.
Say: “Aww. You must really be bummed that your favorite baseball cap got lost at camp.” Instead of: 
  • “I’ll go call the camp director to find the cap.”
  • “I’ll buy you a new one.”
  • "You shouldn’t have taken your favorite cap to camp.”  
4.  Offer empathy and understanding rather than sympathy.
Empathy is the thoughtful understanding of another’s problems and feelings; sympathy takes them on as our own. Empathy can’t be manipulated; sympathy can.
Empathy: “I can appreciate how angry you feel about Mrs. Franklin’s expectations.”
Sympathy: “Mrs. Franklin makes me so mad when she expects your homework to be done while you are in the hospital.”
5. Show high, but reasonable, expectations of your child’s ability to cope with life’s
When your children fall down, blow them a kiss and say, “Uh oh! Kaboomie!” rather than immediately rushing in with a band-aid and assuming they are hurt.
6. Build character, creativity and high self-concept by guiding children to solve   
    their own problems.
“Oh, I bet that was frustrating for you! What do you think you’ll do? How would that work out for you? Let me know how it goes.” 
7. Know the difference between “I can’t” and “I won’t” and how to   
    respond accordingly.
If your child performs/ behaves better for others than for you then the “I can’t” may really be “I won’t.” 
8. Lead by example by taking good care of yourselves and modeling the  
     character traits you want your children to develop.
“Sweetheart, I don’t like the way you are talking to me right now. Feel free to be here with me as long as you treat me with respect.” This parent is taking good of herself by not allowing others to treat her badly and modeling respect to her child. 
9.  Use encouragement, not praise, when children make wise decisions.
When your child succeeds, say “Wow! How did you figure that out?” or “Wow! I bet you are proud of yourself” more frequently than “I am so proud of you.”   
Foster Cline, MD is a well-known child psychiatrist and co-founder of the popular parent training program Love and Logic. Lisa Greene is the mother of two children with cystic fibrosis. 
Visit their website at www.ParentingChildrenWithHealthIssues.com for more information including articles, Q&A, and podcasts. 
These tips were taken from their new book Parenting Children with Health Issues: Essential Tools, Tips and Tactics for Raising Kids with Chronic Illness, Medical Conditions and Special Healthcare Needs by Foster W. Cline MD and Lisa Greene.

Copyright 2007 by Foster Cline, MD and Lisa Greene, All Rights Reserved
printed with permission by More4kids Inc.
Kevin's Comments: The first couple of sentences really grabbed my attention. It made me think how well we really communicate with our children, how well our children listen to us, and how well we listen to our children. Lisa and Dr. Cline offer great advice, even for parents of healthy children.
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August 28, 2007

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