Coping for Families
Notes from a lecture by Dr Gerald Koocher, Chief Psychologist, The Children’s Hospital Boston.
I had the pleasure of listening to Dr Koocher when he visited Wellington and found some of his observations relevant to the day to day difficulties we face as parents of children who need a lot of physical and emotional support. Dr Koocher said “Parents and families have wonderful strength to face cumulative and chronic illnesses. It is the uncertainties that often are the most difficult to face and we need to watch for the cumulative effects on our stress levels of chronic illness.”
The family is the unit of treatment. Sometimes the child is coping well and the parent, grandparents or siblings may be finding it difficult to cope.
He reminds us that physicians cannot read our minds, and if there is a problem, ASK!
Only 40% of prescriptions are taken as directed.
He reminded us that stress is the fight or flight response; the physiological and emotional response to perceived threat has physical symptoms. In stressful situations he said to deal with the problem head on. However, it is important to take time out from the situation from time to time. Respite care is very important. By learning relaxation strategies you can soothe yourself and reduce the psychological response and focus your attention on getting through the day.
Alcohol and drugs are dangerous props.
Dr Koocher suggests we modify our thinking:
- Stop negative self talk
- Increase coping statements and give ourselves permission to do things.
- Focus on what we can accomplish by staying calm
- We each react to stress in different ways – respect the difference.
- Coping is an interactive process. What helped you most in the past?
- Anticipate future problems and solutions from past experience
Patterns of Stress
Stress levels feel as though “they go through the roof” in the initial stages at the time of diagnosis. You can forget or not wish to remember what you have heard. Usually future experiences will involve stress, but you will be able to take them in your stride more easily.
Guilt can become a psychogenic symptom. You will need to learn to overcome the feelings you still have in order to cope with the pain. Exhaustion and lack of concentration are a normal part of the coping process.
Beware of false prophets, you will find some people with strange ideas about why children get ill. There are others seeking to blame one side of the family or another.
Another pitfall is that the child may try to gain control over the family. Social integration is important.
When is professional help needed? Watch for these symptoms and seek help to alleviate them.
- Staying withdrawn from family and friends
- New patterns of aggressive behaviour
- Persistent feelings of blame or guilt
- Wanting to die – usually people who commit suicide have talked about it in the last 90 days
- Accident prone
- Acting as though nothing has happened
- Unusual or poor performance at school or work
- Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
I found the lecture reassuring, the strength of the family bond is so great that it can help us each face the most difficult situations. In a strange way many of us have found reach a new and deep meaning of life that we may not have stopped to find if we had not been given this challenge.