Bottom Line/HEALTH:What happens if, in spite of all your best efforts, it goes badly? Your daughter was four or six at the time and took it great, an angel on earth. But some people’s kids, depending on their ages, may go running from the room or they may emotionally react. How do you deal with that?
Hollye Jacobs, R.N.:I think that you are just emotionally present. You have to be able to handle whatever reaction they’re going to give you. The majority of the time, when you talk slowly and respectfully, checking in with the children—for example, saying, “Tell me what I just told you”—then a child is able to engage in a conversation. You don’t want to have this monologue of, “I have breast cancer…this is what’s going to happen…this is how it’s going to go…” That sort of thing. You want to break the conversation down into small bits of information, checking in with the child to see if he or she understands. If they become tearful, holding that emotion for them, modeling the behavior that despite all of these overwhelming feelings, you’re still going to be there for them. Even if you become tearful, that’s OK, too, acknowledging the fact that you are a family and that you will be there for them and that you’re going through this together will give them the strength and the confidence to go through it. If you have a child who runs out of the room, that’s OK. Let them go. Give them a few minutes, and go find them, wherever they may be—say, in their room—knock on the door, ask permission to come in, and just say, “I know this is really hard. I know this is a big surprise, but I want you to know that we’re going to go through this together. I’m going to be there to help you, and we’re going to have lots of people who are going to help our family go through this. I can handle whatever emotions you need to share. It’s important for you to talk with me any time about what you’re thinking, and about what you’re feeling. And if you don’t want to talk about it any more right now, that’s OK. We can talk about it any time you want.”
Bottom Line That’s great.
Jacobs:That’s one example of how to handle it. I think kids need to know that the adults in their life can handle really difficult emotions.
Bottom Line And it teaches them that you’re modeling behavior that teaches the children how to handle challenges later on in life.
Jacobs:Truly this is a great gift for them in life. After all, life is going to throw at us all kinds of really difficult circumstances and challenges—they’re inevitable in life! Whether, again, it’s a diagnosis or a natural disaster, we’re going to be faced with something Modeling behavior for our kids teaches them how to handle the inevitable difficulties that happen in life. One example that can be very difficult for parents to handle is when a child is angry. Anger is a very normal and common reaction to something that’s really difficult in life, like a cancer diagnosis. One really great option is to allow children to have an outlet for their anger. One of the things that we did with our daughter was to put a bunch of pillows on her bed and tell her to punch those pillows as hard as she possibly can. And she’d hit them, hit them, hit them, and I’d say, “Harder, harder, harder!” She’d hit them, hit them, hit them, and it was such a great outlet for her. She had all of this physical buildup of emotion that doesn’t necessarily come out in words. So by allowing that outlet through the physical process of hitting pillows or by going outside on the grass and stomping on the grass, that allows the physical pent-up emotion to leave their body in a safe way and that creates a space for words that often can come after the release of that physical anger or tension.

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