Before I began my career as a child life specialist in the pediatric hospital setting, I don't think I could've ever imagined that so many young children spend hours and days alone in the hospital. For some families, transportation to the bustling metropolitan city was the factor, while others had multiple other children to care for or jobs they couldn't take leave from.
Alternatively, the ill child whose primary caregivers were consistently present at the bedside often had siblings that were suddenly forced to adjust to unexpected circumstances. And for young children, even small changes to their world causes big ripples of emotions to pour out of them. So, a big shift like this one takes some time to adjust to. My heart goes out to these families, as if parenting multiples isn't already quite the emotional workload.
I’ve said this before and I will say it again: Being in the hospital is challenging for the whole family. Perhaps a child is not the ill one, but it is the parent or other primary caregiver. Young children may rightfully feel sad, confused, annoyed or angry. Their potentially botched routines and separation from their primary caregivers can impact the young child’s coping and responses. Some have the ability to verbalize their feelings, while others respond by acting out more or showing regressed behaviors. They might be attention seeking behaviors like being extra clingy or requesting only your help for tasks you know they can do independently. Or they might be a bit more unsettling like trouble sleeping or sudden accidents with a well potty trained child. Either way, today I’m showing a special book and paired activity a caregiver can do with their child to show that their love for the well (or unwell) child has no boundaries. Despite the challenges they face, the strength of their love does not wither.
I regularly found myself sharing this therapeutic activity with families in the pediatric ICU and throughout the hospital. "The Kiss Box" by Bonnie Verburg and illustrated by Henry Cole, beautifully captures the love between Mama Bear and Little Bear while also acknowledging the anxiety that might be felt during times of separation. The story tenderly reminds readers that this love can still be felt in our hearts when apart. After Mama Bear conveys her kisses are wherever he is, Little Bear then cleverly suggests they each make a "kiss box" for each other.
First read the book with your child or record yourself reading it so they listen to your voice when physically apart.
If possible, the child and caregiver then decorates their own special kiss box to hold their loved one’s kisses. I found the heart-shaped boxes and art supplies at my local craft store. I purchased the book online.
Talk to your child about when s/he might want a kiss and how you are sure you’ve put enough kisses in their for any occasion, be it happy, sad and anything in between. While it is lovely when the child and caregiver are able to do it together, families unable to do so have appreciated the alternative option of sending the book and supplies, along with their completed kiss box, with a family/friend to be delivered to the child. In an environment where it's easy to feel like you don't have control or can't do anything, parents have reported it was relaxing and a good distraction.
I love this activity so much because its simple, meaningful and can be applied to a variety of circumstances. Applicable situations:
- for the ill/injured hospitalized child
- for the well sibling of a hospitalized child
- for the well child(ren) of a seriously ill parent
- for a child's first day of school away from a caregiver
- for a child going away to a summer camp or out of state to visit other parent
- for a child whose parent travels out of town frequently for work
Optional: If you're terminally ill and considering this activity for legacy making, you can scribe words like “owie” or “first day of kindergarten.” If you do, you might want to leave some blank to cover your base. Finish by blowing kisses into each other’s box and exchanging.