This is the question that consumed my sleep Monday night last week…. well technically early Tuesday morning. I wasn’t sure how much the children, especially Heidi would take in, sometimes she fixates on the one word and the rest of what you say is lost.
Around midnight my husband got up to go to bed and had a fall, he woke me up, but he was a bit… not right, he didn’t know why he fell and I thought it best to call the ambulance. An hour later he was on his way to hospital, we later found out he had a mini stroke.
I stayed at home with the children, both of whom had slept through all the (scary) excitement, thank goodness. This gave me four hours to ponder the best way to tell them Daddy was in hospital, much improved by the time the ambulance took off with him thankfully and subsequently being a bit of a smart arse on twitter whilst he waited for the painfully slow process of hospital admission.
Knowing my children a visual image was going to help them best, but any Boardmaker cards would likely get mislaid as both children are far more absentminded when distressed. The same for soft toys, notes etc. Given Heidi’s already extreme separation anxiety I needed to reduce things she had to worry about as much as possible. I wasn’t sure if losing whatever visual prompt I gave her would trigger further meltdown.
In the end I decided to draw a smiley face on the back of their hands and pair it with the words “Daddy is okay”, I chose a blue sharpie because of the calming nature of the colour blue. That was what I did first, then told them what had happened overnight, referring back to the smiley face on their hands and the phrase “Daddy is okay.”
Turned out to be a challenging conversation (unsurprisingly), Annie in particular got very distressed, her greater knowledge of what could happen equals great anxiety. Heidi couldn’t really process it, she fixed on the smiley face and the phrase “Daddy is okay” and went to have breakfast. Which served to further distress her sister due to her apparent callous reaction. Heidi’s processing delay was a great relief as it left me free to focus on Annie’s needs.
I made sure both children’s teachers and aide were aware of the exact wording of the phrase and the smiley face, as well as what had happened overnight, also warned Heidi’s teacher/aide about the possibility of delayed reaction in class.
In the end things worked out okay, husband was home again a couple of days later. But I did notice both girls were careful not to wash the smiley faces off their hands until Daddy was home again.