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Helping Your Children Cope

Helping Your Children Cope

Okay everybody, let’s get started. How’s everybody doing?

Michelle, you want to wait for Travis?

No…no… I don’t think he’ll be here today.

Is everything okay?

Tell me what’s going on…

Well… it’s been a long week. Tom has had a few setbacks. He’d been talking more, sitting up, even trying to get out of bed. But these last few days, he seemed to backslide a bit.

It really hit Travis hard. Last night, he went out with some of his buddies, and he didn’t get home until early this morning. I think he might have been drinking, and who knows what else. I know that with teenage boys there’s bound to be some rebellion, but this is just not like Travis.

Did you talk to him when he got home?

I tried. He was angry…irrational really. I know he wasn’t himself, but he seemed to blame me for Tom’s situation. And frankly, I’m exhausted. I ran home to check on things there, and take a shower and get Emily off to school. She’s only 10. I can’t even bear to think of how this whole thing is affecting her.

My sister has been staying at the house, so I know that Emily’s in good hands, but I hate being an absentee parent…I don’t really have a choice right now, do I?

So, it feels like I’m failing all around. I’m giving it all that I’ve got, but it’s not enough…. not enough for Tom, for Travis, or for Emily.

Oh Michelle, let’s take a few minutes to discuss your situation. We can take a break if you’d like, and then we can talk when you’re ready.

No, I’m okay…really. I don’t want anyone to have to wait on me. We all have enough to do. I’m sorry about all this.

No need to apologize.

Yeah please tell us how we can help.

You know, Michelle, this is one of the reasons that our caregiver group exists…we’ve gotta be here for each other. That frustration, that despair that you’re experiencing that’s…that’s something that many people experience during their journey as caregivers. That’s why the topic that we covered last week - - taking care of yourself - - it’s so important.

I’m afraid with all that’s been going on, I didn’t do very well in that area, either. I haven’t been eating right or getting much sleep. As far as relaxation…well, that seems like a part of another life.

I know. But it’s when things are at their toughest that taking care of yourself is the most important. Look I’m not going to preach about it, but I think it will help you if you…if you really make a purposeful effort to take some time for yourself this week. Will you give it a shot?

Yes, I will. But honestly, it seems like Tom, Travis and Emily need all that I have to give in terms of time and energy.

Just do the best you can, Michelle. It may take some time. You know unfortunately, as we’ve talked about before, this can be a long journey.

Now, let’s talk about Travis for a moment. I know that although he’s just 17, he seems like an adult in so many ways. And he’s not much younger than many of the service members. But in other ways, he is still just a kid. And of course, at 10, Emily is definitely still just a child.

And having a parent with TBI can be frightening for a kid. Like Tom, the parent with TBI may no longer act the same as he did before the injury. And some kids may feel like they’ve actually lost a parent.

Emily definitely seems frightened right now. Other parents that I’ve met have told me that it’s not unusual for kids to be confused and upset.

They’re right, Michelle. And that can be because Emily’s worried about her Dad’s condition, or because she may feel like she’s lost both parents - - one to TBI and one to caregiving. You know you have to remember, kids are really, really perceptive. It’s important to recognize that your children are grieving, just like you. They may withdraw from some social activities with their friends, they may have mood swings, they might be disruptive, or do poorly in school, or show all kinds of other behavioral problems.

My guess is that Travis’ behavior last night is an example of that. He’s acting out, and as hard as it is for me, I should probably expect it.
Children need time. They need space to be kids. It’s important that you communicate with your kids that they’re not to blame for the TBI. Now that may seem so obvious to us as adults, but kids tend to feel responsible for things when things go wrong.
Some kids, like Travis, may even need to take on some caregiving tasks for the parent, or for the younger children in the family. And when they do that, kids can feel conflicted over that role reversal between the parent and the child. 

So it will help if you make sure that any tasks that your child takes on, household chores, things like that, they have to be suitable for their age. And in terms of caregiving, you’ll...you’ll want to determine the tasks that your child will be the most comfortable helping with. It’s so important to include the kids in the recovery process as much as you possibly can. But you want to find other adults to help you, rather than relying on your kids to play a major caregiving role. I mean having your sister help out is a great idea, Michelle.

But you can help your children by explaining TBI in a way that they can understand. You may want someone on the health care team to…to talk to the kids about TBI.

Oh one thing you do want to remember you want to keep an eye out for signs that your child is not coping well. 

Like Travis.

Actually, I think Travis has been doing pretty well, overall. You know if he seems to be depressed or he continues the risky behaviors, you might think about getting him some counseling. He’s a good kid, Michelle. He’s got a good head on his shoulders.

He sure does. After that first meeting, Julie and I couldn’t get over what a great attitude he has. You’ve done a good job with him, Michelle. And I’m sure Emily is a great little girl, too.

Oh, she is, but like I said, she’s confused. Obviously, she sees how much time Travis and I are spending at the hospital, but I haven’t allowed her to see Tom. She knows her daddy got hurt, but I haven’t really known what to tell her beyond that.

Tips for Helping Children Cope

  • Provide information to your children about what to expect before they are reunited with their parent with TBI. For example, explain in advance what they may see in the hospital. Describe how their parent will look, behave, and react before he or she comes home.
  • Be flexible. Take your cue from your child about when he or she wants to resume his or her normal routine. Encourage children to stay involved with friends and school activities.
  • If your children choose to attend their activities, ask friends or relatives to take them. Ask friends to take over caregiving when you need to go to watch your son or daughter play basketball or appear in the school play.
  • Encourage your children to talk about their fears, hopes, and worries. Allow safe and appropriate ways for your children to express their emotions.
  • Meet with your children’s teachers to explain what has happened and the effects on the family.
  • Encourage other family members, friends, or other important adults in your child’s life to share time with your child and to act as a sounding board, if needed.
  • Your children may say upsetting things to you. Just listening can be the best support for them.
  • Re-establish routine for your children. Consistent dinner and bed times may help.
  • Encourage your children to talk about what familiar characteristics and behaviors of their parent they are starting to see.
  • Be easy on yourself and your children. A certain amount of stress is normal.
  • Be careful not to set a timeframe with your children for when recovery will occur. Children want it all to happen quickly, and it is hard to predict recovery after TBI.
  • Stay alert for changes in their behavior. Get counseling for your child to help him or her cope with grief, especially if the child appears depressed or is adopting risky behaviors.
  • Recognize that some children may pull away for a while. Others may regress to younger behavior, becoming very dependent, demanding constant attention, or exploding in temper tantrums. These behaviors should return to normal over time as the child adjusts.
  • Teenagers may be embarrassed about their parent with TBI. Rehearse with them how to respond to comments or questions about how their parent looks, behaves, and speaks.
  • Sesame Street Workshop has produced videos to help children in military families understand issues related to military service and to help parents communicate effectively with their children about these issues. One video addresses “Changes” that occur when a parent has been injured. You can find these videos at archive.sesameworkshop.org/tlc.
At the same time that you are providing factual information about TBI, don’t forget to include reassurance that you are still a family and love one another.
Related Information:
Tips for Helping Children Cope
Helping Children
Frequently Asked Questions
"He had visual field deficits right after the injury. They’ve since gotten a little bit better, but he still has visual field deficits. He lost hearing in his right ear, so he can’t hear sometimes when I’m trying to talk to him." -  Aimee W.



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