Coming to terms with a life-changing diagnosis is a different experience for every child and their family. No two cases are the same.
That said, many people in this position face feelings of fear, uncertainty and powerlessness which can cause overwhelm and confusion. It’s no wonder some children find it hard to come to terms with their diagnosis and avoid talking about it.
However, there are plenty of things you can do to help you move through the adjustment period.
One of the most important actions to take when facing a new diagnosis is to gain a strong understanding of the nature and course of the condition. This way you can properly arm yourself with the resources and tools to take on the big changes you are and your child are certain to face.
Research will help you find the most relevant treatments and lifestyle changes your child will need. A strong foundation of knowledge will also make it easier to communicate with your child when they are ready to do so.
2. Find your tribe
When trying to come to terms with something as serious as a life-changing diagnosis, it is easy to feel like you are in it alone, or no one understands what you are dealing with.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
With the ever-expanding reach of social media and online platforms, there are countless groups, forums and communities all run for and by people just like you and your child. These communities offer a wealth of knowledge and support to help you find your feet, from other newbies with similar fears, to those who have years of experience and knowledge to offer. Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved.
3. Don’t force your child to talk
While you may experience feelings like fear or powerlessness thinking of your child and their future, remember that it is they who are actually living with the diagnosis, and they are likely experiencing the same emotions tenfold.
Your child may be feeling confused or overwhelmed and if they are refusing to talk about it, they may not know how to put into words what’s going on for them or they may just not be ready. It is also worth considering that speaking is just one form of communicating.
If your child is unable or unwilling to engage in a conversation, it may be worth helping them explore other forms of expression like journaling or other creative activities. Think about the different ways your child conveys information to you and try focusing on the those.
4. Meet them where they are
Some children may flourish following a life-changing diagnosis – once the nature of an illness has been identified, it’s often easier to identify the most effective treatment and coping strategies.
However, many children can have difficulty adjusting. Some may reject their new diagnosis as an undesirable label and mourn the life or identity they previously held. This is normal behaviour; some people take longer to adjust to these kinds of changes then others.
Your child may be refusing to speak about the situation if they are in denial and need more time to process what’s going on for them. In these cases, the best thing you can do is be patient until they are ready to meet you and have the talk.
5. Don’t catastrophise
While a life-changing diagnosis is certain to change the course of your child’s life, this does not automatically mean that their life will be less happy or unfulfilled. It means that the path to these feelings and their goals might need some adjustments.
Children are excellent at picking up on the emotions of others around them, especially from their parental figures. If you provide consistent positivity, encouragement and unconditional love and acceptance to your child, it will help empower them to be all that they can be. Even with a new diagnosis, your child is the same person they have always been and will continue to be.