I don’t know about you, but it took me a while to figure out the best way to cope and reduce my anxiety for an upcoming medical procedure.
It’s that time a year again, the youth are heading back to school. For youth experiencing critical illness or living with chronic illness back to school preparation does not just happen in September. Youth must often prepare for school re-entry post treatment or following an extended absence. Along with the typical back to school preparation which includes clothing and school supply shopping, these youth must also prepare themselves for the questions and reactions that they may get from teachers and peers. As well as for treatments, medications or side effects that will be done or experienced at school.
Brainstorm questions that your child might get asked. Sit down with your child and think about all the questions that they anticipate a teacher or peer asking them. You may want to invite a friend or two who spends lots of time with your child to help add questions to the list. Then, spend some time coming up with answers to the questions that your child is comfortable sharing. There maybe questions that are “off limits” and that’s okay. Be sure that your child knows that they can opt not to answer every question and that they have a response to let people know that this is not something they are willing or ready to discuss.
This is a conversation worth having with your child and the school. Find out what the options are for sharing and education peers and teachers about your child’s diagnosis, treatment, and side effects. A little knowledge can go a long way to help people understand and be comfortable with unknown situations. Your child may want to address their teachers and peers immediately with a class Q&A or a presentation, maybe they would like you or a member of their health care team to be there for support. Give your child the options and let them decide how they are comfortable moving forward; be sure they know what platforms and support are available to them. To ensure you cover everyone questions, you may want to set up a Q&A box before the presentation or return to school date.
Be sure that there is a well communicated plan for treatments that must happen during school times. Your child and their teachers should be a part of developing the plan to make sure that it gets carried through and that it works for everyone involved. For example, if your child is going to be late for every English class because they must stop at the office for medication, be sure the English teacher is aware. This will keep them from wondering where their student is, and it will keep them from drawing attention to your child as they slip back into class. Have a plan for the unplanned. Yes, if you know that side effects might occur, be sure there is a plan for when they do. Communicate this plan with the teachers too. For example, if your child gets nauseous. Have a paper with a symbol in the poach of your child’s binder or backpack. If they need to leave the class quickly, they can place this paper on their desk. Teachers will then know what is going on, can put in place the follow up actions, and will not draw unwanted attention to your child.
Having these conversations will help your youth get their best start to the school year or upon their return following an extended absence.
You might be wondering how you got to this point. Your little one, well not so little anymore, is off to summer camp! Your knee jerk reaction is to want to keep them safe, which often means having them within eyesight, ear shot or at least only an “arm’s length” away.
Of course, when they’re home you can watch over them, you know their plans and you can check in with them at any time. But now they’re heading off to camp alone, and wait, what? They’re going to take away their phones or ask them to leave them at home?
These are the thoughts that cross most parent’s minds when they consider sending their teens off to camp. Add a chronic illness to the equation and it quickly puts us in “mama and papa” bear mode.
As a team of child life specialists, our advice is to stop and do a reality check. Summer camp has the potential to help a chronically ill teen build confidence, become more independent and enhance their coping skills while giving them a chance to still be a kid! It also gives them access to a new community of peers, take on new responsibilities, and step out of their comfort zone to try new things.
If this is your reaction as a parent, your youth is probably having a reaction of their own. They’ll need you to believe in and encourage them when you’re sending them off to camp. When you believe in them it helps them become more open-minded to believing in themselves.
Here are our 3 tips to support youth on their way to summer camp
Talk to them about what they can expect at camp. Check out the camp’s website to see the cabins, activities, layout, and pictures from past seasons. This helps youth regain a sense of calm, because they will know what to anticipate when they arrive.
Keep camp related talk positive. This means keeping your own emotions and internal conversations in check if you must. Avoid placing your fear on them by saying phrases like “a week is long; do you think you could manage being away that long” or “I hope you don’t get homesick.” Remember they might also listen in on conversations you’re having with friends and family so be sure to stay positive even when you’re on the phone. You can put a positive spin on your conversations with them and others and build them up with phrases like: “I can’t wait to hear about all the fun you’ll have” and “I hear at camp they have____, you will love that.”
Know the camp’s policies and trust in them. The staff are experienced, they run camp programs all the time, and they’ve learned how to help set your camper up for success. This might include a ‘no cell phone’ policy. Phones distract youth and can stop them from living in the moment. They can also make it difficult to keep them on task or on a schedule. Encourage your child to gain independence and learn new skills while they’re away from home. Having their phone is a constant reminder that they aren’t at home which can actually enable homesickness. Find a communication solution that everyone is comfortable with. Perhaps this means encouraging letter writing, or leaving a handwritten note with the staff. If they like to listen to music, perhaps you can set them up with an alternative device to use. Check in with the camp to learn about their policies and find solutions.
We hope these tips give you a bit of confidence when sending your baby off for their big adventure. They’ll be back in your arms with incredible experiences to share in no time. If they’re looking for a way to stay in touch with their new friends at camp, Upopolis, our private and safe social network for chronically ill youth is a great place for them to connect. Contact us to learn more.
Every week we do a post for youth on Upopolis called “Feel Good Friday”. While doing research I saw a graphic that captured my attention about the ratio of youth that have positive mental health diagnosis versus those who have mental health. That’s why it’s so important that programs, resources, and professionals are available to support youth and their families as they overcome mental health challenges.
Chronically ill youth face a number of mental health challenges including overcoming the social isolation that often accompanies chronic illness, hospitalization, and activity restrictions. On Upopolis, youth have access to Certified Child Life Specialists who are there to answer questions and help youth cope with their medical diagnoses. Plus, they have access to a community of peers who are experiencing adolescence and with similar experiences and challenges.
What are some tips to help U support your youth and their mental health?
Knowing they have somewhere to go to get help can help youth feel that they are not alone. Upopolis offers a safe and reliable space for peer support, reliable medical information, and resources to help them cope with stressful life events. It’s a community that youth can access when they need it. It allows youth to maintain their independence and you know that it is a positive environment, free of cyberbullying, ads and misinformation because it is monitored.
Having the opportunity to communicate with others who have the same diagnosis can help youth understand that there are others out there who may be experiencing the same struggles. Upopolis offers youth a community, a support system, and access to other youth who they can build trusting relationships with.
Youth also have access to a team of Certified Child Life Specialists who are available if they have questions about medical tests, procedures, and coping skills. Ensuring youth have positive role models who understand what they’re going through can help create a healthy environment to cope with mental health struggles, without doing it alone.
Finding reliable information can help empower youth to regain their independence and have control over their diagnosis. There’s a great
resource available from SickKids Hospital that’s all about mental health.
Looking for more information about joining Upopolis?