How to help a 3 year old recover emotionally from hospitalizations?
February 28, 2016 8:02 AM   Subscribe

My kid had 2 ER trips and an overnight hospitalization last week due to his chronic health condition, and he's been an emotional wreck ever since. I would love tips on how to help him settle back into a more level emotional state, or at least as level as a 3 year old gets.

Now that he's physically feeling better, he spends most of the day screaming orders or screaming his frustration when things do not go his way. I know most of it is because he's desperately seeking control now after having no control in the hospital, plus ongoing sleep deprivation (he refuses to nap because HE IS IN CHARGE OF HIS EYEBALLS). We are giving lots of hugs when he allows them.

Extra info: His last hospitalization was when he was almost two, and he's an entirely different animal now. Child life support at the hospital was a joke ("Here, play with this dump truck!").

Advice and personal anecdata much appreciated.
posted by Maarika to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm so sorry you are going through this. When my son had emergency surgery and a lot of tubes, etc., at 4, one thing that helped him was _a lot_ of role playing-type games: there was one he made up where a storm blew a house down and The Hulk came and was angry and then fixed it. he played it 14574 times. He also was furious (and went mute for a few days.) He is a generally well adjusted 10 year old now, with a bit of anxiety but he is able to talk about it and manage it.

At 3 it might also help to find stories and videos of other kids going through similar.

Hang in there.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:11 AM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do some role playing at home. When my son had a minor procedure at age 2 1/2, he spent about two weeks giving us all "shots" at home. (It took us a while to realize it though, because he was using his LittleTykes traffick pylons to administer the medications.)
Let him act out what happened to his and process it.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:32 AM on February 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry you are all going through this. N-thing letting him role play and tell his story. It seems counterintuitive to relive his trauma but it helps him process what happened and move through it. Big hugs to all of you. You're doing a great job, mama.
posted by killy willy at 8:40 AM on February 28, 2016

Playing it out on his own terms is the key to working through this. In the meanwhile, I had two specific thoughts
- maybe a pop-up tent that could be safe space for him - small and enclosed and he can be the boss of what happens inside. maybe he would even be willing to nap in there.
- if he would be willing to sit in your lap in a rocking chair, the movement and closeness to you might help him calm his body - poor kiddo is probably overwhelmed physically by all of his emotions right now.
posted by metahawk at 8:51 AM on February 28, 2016

You can also tell him stories when you went to the hospital. What happened, yada yada.

I was hospitalized alot as a small kid, it really helped that things were explained over and over. (It also helped that my mom was a peds nurse and I was spoiled rotten)

Playing out is good. Momma nurse is good. He's okay. Playing ambulance (and saving him with lots of kisses).
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:10 AM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is he on prednisone? It can make kids into little rage machines.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:13 AM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't remember/find the name of the website that is specifically for finding targeted kids' books about medical treatment, going to the hospital etc, but this resource list from UCSF Benioff has several books in your age range.

You might also ask your pediatrician if they have books (or episodes of TV shows, this seems like the sort of thing Daniel Tiger must have at least one episode about) they recommend as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:47 AM on February 28, 2016

Response by poster: Oh you guys, he just started talking about the noisy blood pressure cuff and his IV, which he called his "feeling center." We'll try role playing today. Thanks for all your advice.
posted by Maarika at 10:43 AM on February 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When you role-play, be very alert for odd ideas he might have internalized. Child Life should have helped with this but since they didn't, you might as well try. Seemingly off-handed remarks that you might normally let drift past as little-kids weirdness might actually be signs pointing at things he needs more help understanding. Why is the IV his "feeling center"? Is he mispronouncing something? What does he think the IV was for? How does he think it being out now affects him? Things like that.

I'm just a volunteer at a children's hospital, no particular training, but nudging conversations like that along has revealed things like a little girl who was convinced she'd never get to go home (because a doctor had said her treatment wasn't over and she didn't understand what "outpatient" meant), or another who thought their younger sibling was mad at them because they never visited, and it turned out the sib hadn't finished some vaccination series and the patient was too immunocompromised to risk it. Almost everything that came up could easily be set aright but it was very important for the child that it be identified and addressed.
posted by teremala at 11:11 AM on February 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: If you don't have a play doctor kit, this would be a great time to get one. It's a good role play for kids anyway and it might help him feel more in control to go around taking everyone's blood pressure. Does he understand anything about his medical condition? Three is not too young to start learning some basics of how cool the human body is and also a few basics of which things his body doesn't know how to do as well.

You might also tell him stories about what happened and why he had to go to the hospital, all ending with emphatic "and you had to sleep in the hospital so the doctors and nurses could help you get better so you could come home! And now you're home! It's great to be home!"

3 years old was a tough age for us in general, so there may be an element of waiting this out, while loving and reassuring him as much as possible in the meantime. Sometimes there just isn't a magic fix, y'know? Love on him and let him know he's ok. (But also play doctor as much as he wants)

I agree with the previous poster who suggested to try and draw out what he's thinking and if he drew any weird inferences that are now freaking him out.
posted by telepanda at 11:29 AM on February 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Books can be great for this.

Here is a list of books recommended by the child life specialists at UC-SF.

I'd leave one or two of them around but not pressure him or ask him about them. He'll likely see the covers and be curious.

Mr. Rogers did a hospital episode. That's the synopsis so you can see if you're interested. When my son was 3 he loved Mr. Rogers. He didn't ask for it, but if I put him in front of the TV with a juice or something he was rapt.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:51 AM on February 28, 2016

Also you might consider hiring a child psychologist for this time, especially if you foresee these health concerns being an ongoing issue. They can provide you with a lot of help and advice.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:52 AM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's a long shot, but is there any chance that he has some residual pain from the incident? Kids are *weird* about understanding they're in pain, and sometimes it manifests itself as behavior issues.

Good luck!!
posted by thatone at 1:27 PM on February 28, 2016

Agree with the role-playing idea. When my kid was 4 he had two ER visits back to back then ended up in a 3 day hospital stay. When we got back home I made him a little doctor kit and he played that with me and his stuffed animals for awhile until he felt he'd mastered something and moved on. A lot of praise and explaining helped too - he loved telling people afterwards how cool X-rays are and how good he was at getting needles (though at the time he was naturally freaked out)
posted by blue_and_bronze at 4:48 PM on February 29, 2016

You might get him a stuffed bear, that has bandages, etc. just like his. Then he gets to take care of the
bear and give it what (he knows) it needs. Maybe bear wants to go to sleep or stay awake, or bear needs to be rocked and held, etc.
posted by Puddle Jumper at 8:56 PM on February 29, 2016

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