Moms: stop fears before they start
By Elizabeth Hurchalla
It's part of a mom's job to watch over her children's health and wellness. And when kids don't feel well, we nurture them back to health as best we can.
But have you ever heard your child cough once and wondered if it's something serious? Sometimes a small concern can quickly escalate into feelings of real fear. If this sounds familiar, there are steps you can take to avoid making yourself sick with worry -- for your sake and your child's.
"Children are very sensitive to mom's mood," says Betsy Cetnarowski, a certified child life specialist at Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio. "So when mom is anxious, it can make kids anxious as well."
Check out these strategies for managing fears that come with being the No. 1 caretaker for your child's health.
1. Talk to your pediatrician.
It's important to arm yourself with information. Instead of putting energy into worrying about what could be going on, call your pediatrician about your child's symptoms.
"They will either allay your fears or say, ‘That does sound serious, come in,'" says Los Angeles marriage and family therapist Tiffany Howsam. "It's OK to ask questions, including where to get more information."
Just beware of consulting Dr. Google, warns Howsam. If you're already feeling anxious and you start looking up symptoms, you're bound to find something to confirm your fears, even if it's an extremely rare case. "Speak to your doctor instead," she urges.
2. Stay in the present.
Unless you have a crystal ball, you can't see the future -- and you shouldn't even try. "When you start thinking about what might happen," warns Howsam, "you can go into a downward spiral. If your child has a low fever, that doesn't mean it's the first sign of an untreatable disease." Find out the facts from a professional before making any conclusions.
3. Do a reality check.
Distinguish the difference between fearful feelings and measurable facts. "Ask yourself, ‘Is this true?'" advises Howsam. "Learn to catch yourself and identify when you're catastrophizing."
4. Take a breather.
"Find a quiet place to sit for five minutes, relax and focus on your breath as it goes in and out," says Howsam. If your mind wanders, just bring it back to the breath. Stick with it. You'll find that you can redirect your thoughts and calm yourself.
5. Make a list.
If you notice your nerves getting out of control, you may be dwelling on one negative detail and disqualifying the positive signs of health or recovery. Write down five positive things about your child's health -- for example, he has a good appetite, his fever is going down, he's energetic or he's sleeping better. If you feel yourself heading down that road of negativity, just look at your list for some reassurance," says Howsam.
6. Be prepared.
If your child does need to be tested or treated, find out exactly what's going to happen, gathering all the details of necessary procedures. "After all," says Cetnarowski, "the unknown is often scarier than the reality."
7. Focus on the familiar.
One way to comfort yourself is to concentrate on making your child feel more comfortable. "If you are going to a doctor's office, bring books or toys from home," says Cetnarowski. "Doing something familiar while you're waiting will not only help your child, it'll also help you feel safer."
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Elizabeth Hurchalla is a freelance writer in Venice, Calif. She has written for Cosmopolitan, InStyle and many other publications.