Childhood Cancer

Your Child in the Hospital

Conflict resolution

Conflict is a part of life. In a situation where a child’s health is threatened, the heightened emotions and frequent involvement with medical bureaucracy mean that conflicts can easily arise. Because conflicts are common, resolving them is crucial. A speedy resolution might result if you adopt Henry Ford’s motto, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.”

• Recognize that speaking up is difficult, especially if being assertive is uncomfortable for you.

I wanted to stay with Meara when she had her stitches, but the doctor was concerned that I was going to faint. So I said, “Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable about me staying with her?” He asked, “Can you sit in a chair?” I said, “Of course.” He heard what I needed, and we negotiated an agreeable solution. I sat on a chair holding my daughter’s hand, and he stitched her up without worrying that I was going to fall flat on the ground.

• Be specific and nonconfrontational when describing problems. For example, “My son gets very nervous the longer we wait for the doctor. The doctor came by the room three hours after he said he would. Could we ask someone next time to see if the doctor is on schedule? Who should we ask?” rather than, “Do you think your time is more valuable than mine?”

• Use “I” statements. For example, “I feel upset when you won’t answer my questions,” rather than, “You never listen to me.”

• Assume mistakes will happen—only vigilance will prevent them. Try to be tactful when you point out errors.

• Ask a hospital social worker or psychologist for advice on problem solving. Their job includes serving as mediators between staff and parents. If the issue is not resolved, you can contact the hospital’s ethics consultant.

• Teach your child to speak her mind. If you need to leave the room briefly, make sure you have coached your child on what to expect while you are gone.

My two children, Sean and Angie, have had many hospitalizations for minor injuries (stitches and casts) and major procedures (benign tumor removed from chest, abdominal surgery). I have taught them to be pleasant but firm in their dealings with staff. They are good at saying, “Excuse me, but we need to wait until my mom gets here,” or “No, I don’t want that done now.” I have taught them that they are in charge of their own bodies. I’m proud to say that although they are never mean or threatening, they have learned to express themselves with clarity and firmness.