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The Mothers' Living Stories Project

Help Your Children

What children need:

  • Openness and truth in developmentally appropriate terms
  • Creature comforts
  • Attention
  • To know they will be taken care of
  • Continuity and safety in daily activities and environment
  • The space to ask questions
  • To be included in family life
  • Ways to be helpful (e.g., make a health drink or draw a picture for Mommy)
  • Choices: to have control over as much as possible
  • Not to be burdened with too much information, unedited emotions, or too many new responsibilities
  • Hope in the context of truth—and humor

Talk to your children about illness honestly and in a developmentally-appropriate way

  • Even very young children know something is going on
  • Children’s fear of the unknown and imaginings are often worse than reality
  • Lying or withholding information can lead to a betrayal of trust

Help yourself help your children

Most of us lack experience in talking with adults or children about illness or death. Expect to “wing it” and clean up mistakes as you go along. Try hard not to feel guilty about your illness or your shortcomings during a crisis.

  • Listen carefully to your children; observe them. Listen to those who know your children best. Include yourself.
  • Talk with other ill parents, with a spouse or partner, with a trusted professional or wise elder
  • Read how other ill mothers are helping their children in Another Morning
  • Explore books, web sites and community resources (see Resource Guide)
  • Read age-appropriate books to the children (see Resource Guide)
  • Make an age-appropriate book for/with a younger child
  • Know that even professionals are not immune to fear or inexperience around illness and death; seek help, if needed, but also rely on your knowledge of your children, common sense, and best intuition
  • Keep the lines of communication open
  • Expect to revisit the same questions, as well as to address new concerns, through the immediate crisis and even years later
  • Learn to tolerate your children’s anger, fear, disappointment, and suffering without beating yourself up or collapsing: you can find surprising strength in yourself, and so can they in themselves
  • Stay alert for signs that your children may need extra help

Get help with the special stresses of parenting through illness

  • If needed, seek out books and professional resources (see Resource Guide)
  • Call parental stress and parenting advice hot and warm lines

Parental Stress Resources

National Resources:

  • National Child Abuse Prevention Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
    24-hour national hotline for telephone crisis counseling, referrals, and educational support.  web site: www.childhelp.org

  • Boys Town 1-(800) 448-3000  - 24-hour national hotline for parents, children, and teens in the U.S., Canada, and U.S. territories. Staffed by professional  counselors. Spanish-speaking counselors available; translation services for other languages available. Free and confidential.  Can refer to some local resources.TTY line:  1-(800) 448-1833 - 24-hour national TTY hotline for hearing impaired parents and children  in the U.S., Canada, and U.S. territories. Staffed by professional counselors.

Bay Area Resources:

  • TALK Line San Francisco:  415-441-KIDS (415-441-5437)
  • Family Paths Parental Support Line: 800-829-3777   www.familypaths.orgToll-free number for the 24-hour, 7 days a week crisis line for parental stress. Crisis intervention, counseling, parent education, referrals to local numbers in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties
  • Alameda County Parental Stress Hotline: 510-893-5444 
  • Contra Costa County Crisis Hotline: 800-833-2900   www.211database.org
  • Napa County 24-hour Stress Hotline: 866-289-8888
  • San Mateo County Parental Stress Hotline: 650-327-3333
  • Santa Clara County Parental Stress Hotline: 408-279-8228
  • Santa Cruz County (North) Parental Stress Hotline: 831-426-7322
  • Santa Cruz County (South) Parental Stress Hotline: 831-724-2879
  • Sonoma County Parental Support Line: 707-585-6108
  • Through the Looking Glass: 1-(800) 644-2666  TTY Line: 510-848-1122
    Local and national services for parents and children with disabilities www.lookingglass.org            


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