Are you worried because your child:

  • Doesn’t want to talk about his/her injury or illness?
  • Tries to push injury or illness out of his/ her mind?
  • Not interested in usual activities, friends or family?

Many children who don’t talk much about their feelings or reactions are finding other ways to cope, and are doing well. Others just aren’t ready to talk yet. And some (especially teens) may be talking with friends even if they’re not talking much about it with parents.

If your child seems very “down” or withdrawn, and this does not get better within a few weeks after the diagnosis or injury, talk with your child’s doctor about getting additional help.

How can you help your child who isn’t talking about it or seems withdrawn?

  • Be patient with your child

Strong feelings are common but temporary reactions to the injury, illness, and hospital experience. Younger children’s early reactions- including crying, whining, clinging or acting out- are common and expected in small amounts. Teens may feel confused, angry, or scared. Remind them these feelings are okay. If your child or teen’s behavior gets to be too much, it’s okay to set rules and limits like you would normally. Work with the medical team while in in the hospital to plan a daily routine so that things are more predictable and familiar.

  • Younger children are often more upset at being left alone.

When you are not with your child at the hospital, have a family member or familiar adult stay with your child. Always tell your child when you are leaving, why, and when you’ll be back.

  • Help your child connect with family and friends.

Everyone needs some time alone, but be sure that your child also spends some time with friends and family. Encourage your child to to keep in touch with friends by phone, email, text, or social media on a regular basis. Talk ahead of time about how to explain the injury, illness, or treatment complications/side effects and answer questions. While at the hospital, ask your child’s nurse to introduce your child to others on the floor with similar experiences. Being in the hospital can increase feelings of loneliness, especially in teen. If you notice that your child seems less interested in being with people he/she usually enjoy, bring this up with your child and help them sort out their feelings by asking questions and listening.

  • Let your child know you’re available to listen when he or she is ready.

If your child does not want to talk about things now, “keep the door open” for talking at your child’s time and pace. In the meantime encourage connections with friends and with adults you both trust. In the hospital, use phone, email, and other ways to stay in touch.

Everyone in the family can be affected – often in different ways. Talking about what things have been like for each person is often helpful. This can happen in different ways at different times (dinnertime, bedtime) and in different places (in the car, at home, in the hospital).

  • Help your children name their feelings, such as being sad, scared, lonely, or angry.

Sometimes sharing your own feelings can show children that it’s okay to do the same. When children or other family members talk, accept their feelings and be a good listener, even if what they have to say is hard to hear. You know your child and how she or he likes to share thoughts and feelings. Your younger children might show them through play, drawing, or telling a story. Your older child or teen might want to write about their experiences and feelings, or express them by writing poetry, a song, or drawing). Listen to one mom talk about the benefits of talk therapy

  • Help them get back to their normal routine as quickly as possible.

Notice if your child seems withdrawn or is losing interest in things they used to enjoy. To help with emotional recovery, it’s important for your child to get back to his/her normal routine as much as possible (taking their physical condition in to account). Encourage them to do their usual activities, even if they don’t really feel like it at first (this is usually the best way to start feeling a little better). Make a plan for the week’s activities. Start with small steps and build on these.

Helpful Resources:

Does my child need talk to someone? / Do I need to talk to someone?