Children who are living with CHD or who are indirectly affected by CHD, often have emotional scars. In today’s age where children are bombarded with information on a consistent basis, and where filtering out some information is essential to their sanity, it is difficult enough to get children unaffected by trauma to listen, let alone children who have added defense mechanisms.
We have looked around and found 5 ways to empower your children to listen to you. In other words, make it as easy as possible for them to listen to you, without compromising on the values and morals that you want to teach. We have also created this handy pocket-size reminder.
1. Say it With a Single Word
Situation: Different CHD’s allow for different levels of physical activity. Children with CHD may not feel tired, but they need to be monitored in terms of the strain that physical activity puts on their heart, even after medical interventions.
The Unproductive Way: You could sit them down and preach again about their condition and their need to take it easy. They end up feeling frustrated and every little bit of normalcy you tried to create goes out the door!
The Better way: Your expectations regarding their need to take it easy. They know exactly what you need them to do. Instead of adding to the noise in their lives, causing them to filter out your voice, try one word to refocus them and remind them what they are supposed to do.
The Result: To defuse the situation identify a keyword such as “slow down” or “time-out” that can remind them. Add a physical action that can be repeated with the word, that way when you are in a crowd and you want to be more subtle about your reminder, you can simply use the signal.
2. Provide Information
Situation: The reality is that a simple one-word reminder may not be enough to get children to co-operate. Using the same example of the physical activity (because it is such an important subject) we will illustrate how to provide information.
The Unproductive Way: You could nag them while they are playing, asking them how difficult it is to understand that you need to take it easy. It is tempting to get frustrated at their refusal to co-operate.
The Better way: We all hate following orders, we may even be tempted to rebel against them, so instead of issuing commands, why not provide information? Kids are not little robots and instead of working against their free will, let it work for you. This approach empowers your child because you are telling them that they have the ability to make the right decisions.
The Result: Why not use a balloon to illustrate what happens to a human heart when strain is placed on it. When you blow up a balloon too big and you let the air out, it does not return to its proper shape. But if you only blow it up a little at a time and let the air out, the structure is not compromised. After the illustration, explain to your child that when you ask them to slow down, it is because you want their heart to not work too hard and be damaged. If they take it easy they can have more fun, more often.
3. Give Your Child a Choice
Situation: Birthday parties are always a conundrum for CHD parents, especially if there are trampolines or jumping castles and it is shortly after surgery. These items are a high-level cardio work out.
The Unproductive Way: Not allowing them to go to any parties with jumping castles or trampolines will not only result in them being pushed aside by friends, but it will cause them to either live in fear, or they will grow in resentment towards you as a parent and/or their own body.
The Better way: Instead of deciding on their behalf, offer your child choices. When a child feels like they are part of the decision-making process you will be more likely to get their co-operation. They will feel empowered and valued.
The Result: When you anticipate that there will be a trampoline of jumping castle, discuss it with your child beforehand. Consider using the balloon illustration to explain to them the impact that the activity may have on their bodies. Give them a choice between attending (stating the condition of either sitting out the jumping or monitored jumping, based on their ability) or rather not attending.
4. State Your Expectations
Situation: Your child might have chosen to attend the party in conjunction with your conditions for attending. How do you make sure that your conditions will not be ignored and/or a scene will not be created in the event that your child may get carried away?
The Unproductive Way: Nagging the child to listen and telling them they have jumped may very well not work. It may escalate into you being anxious and your child being upset. This may influence the entire atmosphere at the party and put the unwanted attention on your child.
The Better way: Discuss your plan of action before the time and recap on the way to the party. You can state that they will be allowed to jump for a predetermined time. Agree on a signal that they need to get off for a while. State that should they co-operate that you will stay until the end of the party, but if they do not co-operate that the plan is to leave the party quietly.
The Result: It may take once or twice of your children to see that you are serious, especially if you are not in the habit of being consistent. Yet in the end, you will find SUCCESS, without the fuss.
5. Name Their Feelings
Situation: There may be times when your child living with CHD cannot do what other children can do, this may leave them frustrated, angry or even sad. They may even act out and have melt-downs. Similarly, siblings of children living with CHD may feel less cared for, less fussed about and in turn, this may trigger anger, sadness and/or frustration.
The Unproductive Way: You could tell them to stop crying and you could even offer advice. You could sit with the messy details and try and sort out who is right and who is wrong, just to step into the trap of aggravating one of the parties involved even further. If they feel angry or sad about something, don’t minimize those feelings with platitudes like “It could be worse,” and “You should be grateful you are alive,” but don’t participate in complaining, self-pity or anger, either.
The Better way: Allow your child to cry, if they are crying. Encourage them to breathe deeply, as this will have a natural calming effect. Then help them name their emotion. You can use phrases like: I can see that you are frustrated (angry/sad/etc.) Wait for them to respond. Then you can offer some compassion: I am sorry that you are feeling this way. I too wish sometimes that we were not in this situation. Then encourage them to come up with a solution. Ask them what they think you can do TOGETHER to work out the situation.
The Result: You will see your children’s emotional outburst lessen. You will be able to love them through their difficult patches without encouraging them to wallow in self-pity. You will also be training them to look at situations and to make positive changes towards working it out. They will also be encouraged to treat others with compassion, as you will be teaching them to look at the situation from both sides as they are trying to work out a solution. Lastly, you will train them to be resilient, to not blame others for their circumstances and to not wait to be rescued consistently, but to rather stand up and change things for themselves and others.
Let us know how these tips worked for you and share the tips you are using that we may not have on here.