Talking to Children about Traumatic Brain Injury
If a loved one or immediate family member has suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), talking to your child about what has happened is an important, albeit possibly difficult step as you deal with the injury and any on-going symptoms.
The following ideas may be helpful as you work through the process. For specific advice about your situation speak to your GP.
If you are in a two parent family, or are in a positive co-parenting situation, talking to your child(ren) together is a good idea. Working together to make sure your child feels safe may help him or her to feel less anxious and process what you are telling them.
If it’s possible, talking to all of your children at the same time will make sure they get the same information and that no one feels as though they are being left out of the loop or are less important.
If there is a big age gap between your children, for example they are aged 5 and 14, it may be that while you tell them the basics at the same time, you sit down with your 14 year old at a later time to talk through any details which may be too mature for a 5 year old.
The Right Time and Place
It’s important to get the timing right when discussing an ongoing injury and symptoms.
Talking around the dinner table or wherever normal conversation occurs may be a good option, because children will generally feel more relaxed at this time. If they are asked to come and sit for a more serious style talk which isn’t a regular occurrence it may make them anxious or worry.
Set aside as much time as you can for discussing your loved one’s TBI with your child. This will give them the opportunity to ask any questions they may have. Making sure they don’t have too much planned after the talk may also be a good idea in case they get upset about what’s happening.
Reminding your child of all the other people they have in their support system to talk to during this time can also help to reduce upset and anxious feelings. Remind them that they have their siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunties, uncles and friends who are all there for them.
Trace Maroney has a fantastic collection of books about feelings which may help younger children understand their feelings during this time. These include ‘When I’m feeling Anxious’ ‘When I’m feeling Sad’ ‘When I’m feeling Calm’ and many more that may help your child through their own journey.
Be as honest as you can be with your child for their age, and talk in language that they will understand. For younger children it may be as simple as:
‘Mummy or Daddy or Nanna has had an accident and have hurt their head so they need to have some time to rest and get better.’
For older children and teenagers explaining the symptoms and what has happened during the TBI may be appropriate.
Being honest will also help your children to understand why things are likely to be a little different while the person with TBI is in hospital, dealing with on-going symptoms or attending rehabilitation or doctors’ appointments.
If someone in your immediate family suffers from a TBI it can be a very unsettling time for your child. If your child is school aged and you feel like they may need additional support, or if you just need some help working out how to talk to them about TBI it might be worth having a chat to their school.
Many schools will have their own counsellor or psychologist who may be able to assist you talking to your child, or who can help to support them through this time.
Depending on whether your child is in primary or secondary school, it could be a good idea to let your child’s teacher or year coordinator know what’s happening at home just in case there are any behaviour problems at school.
Finally, you can always reach out to your GP or medical practitioner and ask for their advice on coping during this time.
Resources and Further Reading
Disclaimer: This website does not provide advice for individuals. Please seek individual advice from your medical practitioner.