How to communicate with your child when they feel ill
Life isn’t fun when we are feeling under the weather. As winter has just begun, more of us are prone to catch a cold, stomach virus, the flu and other types of illnesses. Whether it is a sniffle, sore throat or something more serious, feeling ill can influence our work productivity and our family relationships. As adults, we have learned coping mechanisms to help us persevere until we are feeling better again. Children, on the other hand, sometimes need their parents’ or caregiver’s guidance to understand what they are going through. I can remember 15 plus years ago when my two little ones would get sick. “M-o-m-m-y, my throat hurts.” Or “M-o-m-m-y, I feel hot.” And that’s when they were able to speak! But just imagine how difficult it was before they were able to talk! As an infant or toddler it wasn’t always easy to understand what they were trying to communicate to me. That child development course I had in college came in handy through the years. It helped me understand the different stages of development so I could communicate with them more effectively when they were ill. In this article I want to share that information with you, and help explain how to talk about illness with your child.
The infant/baby stage is the hardest to communicate with about their illness. Since babies cannot talk yet, we of course, have to rely on other cues from them such as acting cranky, tugging at their ears (possible ear infection), not eating, and crying more than usual. We have to make educated guesses as to what their ailment is. What we can do at this stage is to comfort them by holding them more and using a soothing voice when we speak to them. Talking about illness comes in later stages, but offering comfort is still very helpful to a child at this stage.
The next stage of development is the toddler stage between 1– 2 years old. At this age, your child is beginning to use just a few words to talk, but not full sentences. It is less difficult to understand how they are feeling than the infant/baby stage. However, sometimes it is still a struggle to nail down exactly what their symptoms are. My little ones, Wyatt and Lily, would sometimes say words like “hot”, meaning they felt hot. They might refrain from eating or playing too. We can communicate with them by using our natural tone of voice, but in a more comforting way. Toddlers love to cuddling at this age when they are feeling sick. Talking about illness is still a struggle in this stage, but it is easier. Using simple words and offering lots of comfort is still a priority.
The next stage of development is the preschool stage between 3 – 4 years old. The language development has advanced and they know many words. It is much easier for them to tell you how they feel. I have fond memories of my two at this age. It is really a time when communication between parent and child becomes more developed and determining what illness they have isn’t as difficult as it once was.
The school age years from 5 – 11 are characterized by the capability of the child to construct complex sentences and be able to give a more accurate description of how they are feeling. My children had their fair amount of ear infections. At this age, most of the guesswork on what was causing them to feel bad was gone because they would just tell me, “Mom, my ear hurts.” Of course, it was not music to my ears, but at least I was not playing a guessing game.
The tween and teen stage of development, ages 12 – 18, is characterized by more advanced language skills. They are fully able to tell you exactly how you are feeling and more (smile). While it still important to acknowledge they are not feeling well, you must be careful to not to talk to them like a baby as well. This is the stage of development I guess I struggled with the most because my precious little preschoolers were now almost fully-grown adults. My daughter is nearly 16 and I still have this urge inside to speak to her as though she is a 4 year old. Any other parents out there relate. At this stage of development, our children want to be like an adult. They want us to use a normal tone of voice, not the baby talk I so loved to use.
No matter what stage of development your child is in, you have to remember that showing concern, empathy, and love at their level of development is so important. It will help them get through their illness easier and hopefully faster. And help you retain some sanity. Here’s to your family’s health!