Parenting is a tough job, especially if your child has an ostomy, but most agree it’s well worth the blood, sweat, and tears. Preparing yourself and your child for the many stages of their development is possibly one of the biggest causes of parental anxiety. While you may have already rehearsed the dreaded birds and the bees speech, it has probably never crossed your mind that your child would one day be faced with ostomy surgery. Scary, right? You’re probably wondering how you’re going to explain this to your child when you have as many questions as they do, but with a little research and preparation, you will all make it through.
Explaining their ostomy in a way that is appropriate for your child’s age is important. You know your child better than anyone else, so it’s up to you to determine the complexity of the information you share with them. Remember, you play a significant role in determining how they will perceive their new situation.
For parents of infants, imagining your baby undergoing a major operation is terrifying. Just keep in mind that once your child heals, they will go about life as usual — and you will just have to learn to change pouches instead of diapers. As they age, their ostomy will seem like second nature to them because they’ve never known any differently. Focus on educating yourself, so you’re ready to field questions that will come later down the road.
If a health condition or trauma results in an ostomy during the toddler years, your child is too young to fully understand, but will likely be curious and may surprise you with a lot of questions. Toddlers are infamous for driving their parents crazy simply by asking, “Why?” in any and every situation. They may ask why their sibling doesn’t have a pouch on their belly or why they don’t poop on the potty like you do. Try not to respond with negative language that could cause them to feel guilty about their condition. Instead of saying, “Your intestines don’t work properly,” you may want to tell them their body is unique and works differently than others. If you embrace their ostomy as something special, rather than an inconvenience or a problem, they will too.
School-aged children will be more aware of the fact that their body is different. As they start interacting with peers at school and extra-curricular events such as birthday parties or organized sports, they may become self-conscious. Children at this age are natural explorers as they start figuring out the world outside of the comfort and safety of their own home. It is important that your child knows their ostomy doesn’t have to get in the way of having fun and partaking in typical kid activities. Take some time to explain how their ostomy works and why it improves their health. You may want to use simple diagrams of the human body to give them a visual image. The more your child understands their condition, the more confident they will be when handling questions or taunting by peers. If they are still in the stuffed animal phase, an ostomy teddy bear may also help comfort your child.
The teenage years are rough enough as is, and adding an ostomy into the mix of an already changing body may seem like the end of the world to your adolescent. Anticipate a blow to their self-esteem. They’ll worry that their pouch will show through clothing, and the thought of a leak or funky smells while with friends will be mortifying to them. Help your teen navigate these feelings by stressing the importance of good stoma hygiene and proper pouching techniques. Let them know that they are not obligated to tell anyone about their ostomy and that they can come to you with any problems or fears they may be experiencing. At this age, they are old enough to understand the physiology behind an ostomy, but may be struggling with existential questions such as, “Why me?” Check to see if there is an ostomy support group for teens in your area; just knowing they are not alone can go a long way to boost their morale. You may even consider sending them to a summer camp such as YOUTH RALLY where they can have fun with other ostomates their age without worrying about being teased or bullied. If your child seems depressed, seek help from a professional therapist.
At any age, daycare workers or school nurses should be aware of your child’s ostomy. Ask them to keep an emergency set of supplies on hand on behalf of your child. Also, supplies should be kept in your child’s backpack and can be stored in an inconspicuous carrying case to avoid attracting attention from busybody classmates.
Your perception of your child’s ostomy will undoubtedly affect the way they view it. If you make it out to be a hassle, they will see it as such as well. Contrarily, if you simply make it part of everyday life, just like bathing or teeth-brushing, they will get the hang of it in no time.
Most importantly, whether your parenting style tends to be hands-off, helicopter, or somewhere in between, reassure your child that their ostomy is there to help them live a strong, healthy, and active life.
If you need assistance determining which pouching system best fits your child’s needs, give us a call at 1-844-700-7013.