Little kids don’t really understand what it means to be sick. Suddenly, they feel uncomfortable and out-of-sorts, more easily overwhelmed, worn out, and generally at odds with everyone and everything. This stems from their bodies being at odds with them and acting in rather upsetting, abnormal, and unpredictable ways. I think for some children, like my oldest, for whom routine is very important, the unpredictability of their bodies during sickness is one of the worst parts of being sick!
In light of this curious cluelessness in sick kids (I’m not sure how long this phase lasts, but it definitely exists in toddlers!), where they’re feeling awful but they have no idea why or what to do about it, we as parents have to be more aware and then enforce some general rules for rest and recuperation. Leila’s post at Like Mother Like Daughter has a very comprehensive set of guidelines so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here – go read her page 🙂 I’m just writing and thinking about this heightened awareness we need to have because our little kids just don’t have it yet, especially when they’re very young. With experience they’ll start figuring it out but until then we really have to pay attention. We have to know our children’s normal MO so that when something’s bothering them and they’re acting differently we can pick up on it. We have to be able to tell the difference between the slightly bored complaint of a toddler who needs to get out and run around, and the attention-seeking whine of a child who needs to reconnect with his mom and be reassured of her love, and the general malaise of a child who’s starting to feel unwell.
It just confirms, to me, the crucial role of a parent (and perhaps especially a mother) in the life of the very young child, and how impossible it is to replace that role with daycare or babysitters, no matter how good they are. No one can love my children like I can, and no one can be in tune with their needs like an involved and present parent can. I can still love my children well despite working outside the home, but those hours away from them do make it harder to read their moods and decipher their needs, and it makes it even more essential for me to be aware and fully present with them when I am at home. My active presence – my ability to understand what they’re feeling when they’re confused and unable to express what’s wrong and respond in a helpful manner – goes a long way towards making them feel unconditionally loved, understood, and accepted for who they are. Hopefully I can continue to get better at it as time goes by and I gain more experience in this crazy adventure called motherhood!