Have you recently received a call that your service member has become very seriously injured (VSI) or seriously injured (SI)? Do you have a child who will be affected by your wounded warrior’s injury? Are you struggling to prepare your child for the emotional impact that your wounded warrior’s injury may have on his or her life?
If so, you can strive to overcome these challenges by preparing your child for what may occur during the first visit to your wounded warrior’s bedside. No one knows how your child will react when first seeing your wounded warrior; however, understanding your child’s emotional needs, planning ahead, and providing support to your child before, during, and after the initial visit may set the tone for how he or she will interact on future visits.
Developmental approach to the emotional care of children
Seeing a seriously injured service member can be emotionally distressing to children and teenagers. One aspect of preparing young people for the experience is knowing how to communicate with children of different ages.
Infants, toddlers, and young school-age children
According to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (CSTS), young children are less likely to need to know the details about the injury that a teenager would require. Depending on your child’s age, use appropriate language that he or she will understand. Describe your wounded warrior’s injury from a child’s point of view. Younger children may find it helpful if you show where your wounded warrior is injured by using a doll, puppet, or other prop. Be aware of certain disclosures when talking to younger children about your wounded warrior’s condition. Do not provide details to a child who is not ready to hear them.
School-age children, preteens, and teenagers
School-age children, preteens, and teenagers are able to understand certain concepts and definitions, making it easier for you to explain certain medical terminology associated with your wounded warrior. Also, teenagers may feel as though they are being drawn back into their parents’ lives at a time when they are learning to become independent. Parents or guardians should not expect a teenager to take on the adult role in the family now that the service member is wounded.
Regardless of your child’s age, provide reassurance that your wounded warrior is still the same person even though he or she may look different. Provide comfort by letting your child know that it is okay to be angry, frightened, or sad.
Support for the first visit to your wounded warrior’s bedside
Knowing what actions to take before, during, and after your child’s first visit to your wounded warrior’s bedside will help all members of the family cope with the situation. Find out how you can prepare your child by going to: Children of Wounded Warriors: Guidance for Caregivers.