20 October 2009

Meeting with the Child Life Specialists Regarding Oliver

Recently, we made an appointment with the Child Life Specialists at Bennett's hospital. Child Life Specialists are people who work primarily in health care settings, focusing on the emotional and developmental needs of children and their families.

We had initially contacted them to discuss our concerns over how to help Oliver transition through our absence as we care for little Bennett in the NICU. However, the day before we met with them, we learned of Bennett's diagnosis. Now, we were wanting to discuss the emotional well being of both of our boys.

Our conversation with the Child Life Specialists went wonderfully. We were able to get some fabulous advice and insight into what it's going to be like to raise a chronically sick child. Here's a snippet of what we learned regarding Oliver (We'll write about our conversation regarding Bennett another time):

Helping Oliver Cope
We first asked about how to help Oliver with the present dilemma: mom and dad are gone alot and when present, they are distracted and even sad.

The CL Specialists suggested we restrict Oliver's caregivers to a few family members and close friends only, if able, and make them as regular as possible. The goal is to arrange Oliver's main caregiver to be someone who would care for him and discipline him as closely to the way we, as his parents, do. So, at that time, we decided to chunk our original plan to have a patchwork of babysitters to watch Oliver and decided we'd start communicating this need to our family.

The CL Specialists also suggested that we discuss with Oliver about where we are and why we are gone. When we returned home or were going to leave, we should explain where we are going or coming back from. If we cried in front of him, we needed to simply explain that we were sad but that we are ok. Since then, we've brought home pictures of Bennett, shown Oliver videos and talked about Bennett being in the hospital. But that went over like a lead balloon...

Oliver does *not* like to see, hear or talk about his brother. We think it mostly stems from Oliver's inability to understand what "Bennett" is. (If you ask Oliver where Bennett is, he still points to his tummy.) So, at this time, we are taking Oliver's lead. If and when he's interested, we talk about it. If not, we just keep quiet. We know Oliver will eventually grow to love Bennett but it may be too much to ask of him right now.

Oliver Uses His "Paci" To Self Soothe
Previous to this meeting, Breck was concerned that Oliver (22 months old) was no longer satisfied to have his pacifier during nap and bedtime only. Now, Oliver was asking for his "paci" all the time throughout the day. Breck wasn't sure...but felt that refusing Oliver his pacifier during this time was unnecessary since it's still his way of self-soothing.

The CL Specialists agreed. They explained that during any stressful period, children will often "unlearn" the last skill they were being taught before the stress mounted. (We were trying to wean Oliver from his pacifier.) So, they suggested that we allow Oliver to have his "paci" when he needs/wants it and to consider putting it away when things in our life began to get back to normal (some time after Bennett comes home). It was nice to be reassured that allowing our little one to have his pacifier would help him cope but would not scar him for life.

Oliver May Punish Us For What's Happening
The most surprising thing we learned regarding Oliver during our meeting with the CL Specialists was the idea that Oliver would likely try to "punish us" for this. We almost busted out laughing when we heard this. How does a nearly 2 year old punish his parents?...and how does such a small child even think of this when they can't even talk yet?

We discovered this is a fairly common thing for children of this age in a situation like this. The CL Specialists explained that we should not be surprised if when we return home each day to be with Oliver, he begins to run away from us. We were told not to worry if he not only ran away but if he ran into the arms of his temporary caregiver. "If he does this," we were warned, "it is because he's wanting to communicate to you that he's unhappy about what's going on and he wants you to know it."

It wasn't but a day or two after this meeting that we saw exactly what the CL Specialists were talking about: We came through the door excited to see our big boy (he usually runs into our arms) but found he wanted nothing to do with us. Despite our encouragement, he protested to be in our arms or engage with us. Fortunately, we knew what was happening so the sting of this incident was slightly less painful.

However, we were surprised to see Oliver begin to throw a tantrum and start to absolutely wail. We had not seen such strong emotion from Oliver in a very long time. It was obvious he was feeling pain but didn't understand it himself. Within a few minutes, he released his anger and was willing to allow us to hold him. All we could do was comfort him and cry with him inside ourselves. We don't like it any more than Ollie.

Thankfully these moments are few. But, we are aware they are Oliver's way of saying he does not like the fact that his parents are gone alot or that life has changed on him. This has helped us be more present with Oliver when we are home and to comfort him all the more that we will be back soon.

We Were Reassured We Are Doing The Right Thing
The greatest gift we were given during our meeting with the Child Life Specialists was simply the reassurance that, despite our circumstances, we are doing the best we can.

Nothing hurts us more than to think our children are suffering. So, to be listened to and reassured that we were doing everything we can helps put our hearts at rest.

The CL Specialists seem to understand the dilemma we are in with having to care for two children 30 minutes apart - brothers who have never met and have no idea how either of their lives are about to change.

It's difficult but it's doable. We know we will eventually be together as a will just take time.


  1. My youngest sister is studying to be a child life specialist when she graduates! What a wonderful story of the work they do in the hospitals to help families. It sounds like this was an incredible gift for you both. Love you all!
    -B and L

  2. Oliver and Bennett are so blessed to have such tender, loving, wonderful parents who reflect God's goodness to each of them! Keep on trusting... His grace will sustain you.

  3. I'm so glad that you were able to meet with them, and they could prepare you for the attitudes Oliver may exhibit. It sounds like there was some solid advice and affirmation given in that time. I'm sorry that he is feeling the affects of this time.

  4. I'm SO glad you guys are doing this. When Erin was sick, my parents opted not to do counseling. Granted, this was nearly 20 years ago and that's just not something people did. We were fine. But, I think in retrospect, we would all tell you that it would have been incredibly beneficial. As someone who has been the sibling to a sick child, I can tell you that it's hard to feel left out or to not get attention. Granted, I was much older than Oliver when Erin got sick, but I know it even affected Jenna and Paula and they were 5 and 3 at the time. Anyway, I think you are doing the right thing and am glad to hear you have someone to talk to about it. Even though you've got a lot to worry about with Bennett, you are so wise to think about how all of this is affecting Oliver. You guys are GREAT parents.


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