What Family Can Do to Help
Practical ways to support your child
Supporting your child with coping
Supporting the caregiver
This is Hard for Everyone
Watching your child suffer from symptoms following a concussion and not knowing when they will recover is hard, and it can be hard on everyone in the family. It is ok to be worried and stressed, and it is understandable to feel overwhelmed and lost. Recovery can be confusing and sometimes takes longer than expected.
The good news is, with the right support, the large majority of youth make a full recovery from concussion! In this section, you will learn some ways you can support your youth on their path to recovery.
Practical Ways of Supporting Your Child
Family and caregivers have a significant role in their child’s recovery. They are the foundation of their child’s support system, they know their child best, and are important role models.
Below are some practical ways you can support your child.
It is strongly recommended that all primary caregivers attend initial medical appointments and follow-up appointments. This creates a foundation for a comprehensive approach to your child’s recovery where everyone involved gets the same information, are able to ask questions, and express concerns. If a caregiver cannot be physically present, ask the health care team if the caregiver can join in another forum (e.g. by phone or zoom).
If your child is struggling with managing symptoms during their day, it might be helpful to learn about how to pace yourself, so you can help apply this information to them. This might mean encouraging more brain breaks, or reducing demands on them in the short-term. See Pacing for more information.
Manage your own and your child’s expectations about recovery time-frame. Recovery can take longer than expected, and return to activities and learning is gradual. It is helpful to remind your child that everyone recovers at a different pace.
Encourage your child to stay socially connected with friends and family. Humans are wired for connection and we need connection to thrive emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually. Consider helping your child come up with a plan for what socially connected looks like.
Some youth feel anxious about their symptoms. Caregivers can reassure their child that even if symptoms increase a little bit, they are not hurting their brain.
Recognize your child’s efforts and intentions to get better, no matter how small. Express this to them!
Supporting Your Child with Coping
Anxiety, emotional ups and downs, and worry are common following concussion, but these emotions can make symptoms feel worse and get in the way of doing things that can help with recovery. Parents and caregivers can help by:
Adolescence is a developmental stage where youth become more independent and push away from caregivers. However, there are times when they continue to seek out their caregivers. This means it’s important for caregivers to continue to be available, consistent, and reliable to maintain the thread of connectivity, and to provide the security needed for their child’s personal growth. Try to intentionally create opportunities for connectivity. Invite your child on an errand where it will be one-on-one time (e.g. grocery shopping and they can pick something they want to eat), or plan to be home and visible when they are typically home (e.g. after school).
These moments of connectivity create opportunities for communication.
Supportive Communication Strategies
- As an exercise, think about how you have typically responded, or have been responded to, when you are upset. What type of responses felt best in the immediate moment? What types of responses made things better in the long-term?
Active Listening & Reflective Responding: This approach focuses on listening more than talking. Show your child you heard them, and get what they are going through by verbally reflecting it back to them (e.g. “You feel really frustrated you can’t play soccer”).
Validation: Letting your child know it’s ok for them to feel the way they do. It feels good to be understood, and can increase a sense of connectivity with your youth. (e.g. It’s understandable you feel angry you can’t play soccer).
Begin With: Simply be present and hold space for their feelings, showing compassion, and not trying to change anything. No agenda. No advice. Just giving nonverbal gestures to show you are listening and can see it the way they are seeing it (e.g., nodding along, maybe holding a hand, or giving a hug, etc.).
Communication is not going to be perfect. Sometimes people get upset and can be reactive, but it’s how we manage afterwards that’s important. Does your child feel heard? Do they feel safe expressing themselves?
What is co-regulation?
Have you ever walked into a room and felt “the tension”?
Our brains are wired to connect with other people’s brains, which means we link with other brains and we influence each other's emotions. We may be unaware of how our emotions affect others around us. For example, if one person feels tense/anxious, others in the room may experience similar emotions and bodily sensations. This is also true when a person is calm, others in the room may begin to feel calm. The energy we bring into a room affects everyone in the room. Therefore, how we manage our emotions can help someone else regulate their emotions.
Children rely on co-regulation to help them regulate, and learn to regulate, their emotions as their brains develop. Teenagers are similar and still need their parents and caregivers to help them regulate their emotions. By modelling stress-management skills, parents and caregivers are helping their child regulate their emotions, and teaching their child the skills to self-regulate their emotions.
If you are feeling stressed, focus on regulating your own emotions before helping your child. Well meaning attempts to co-regulate can turn into co-escalation if we try to help others when we feel overwhelmed, stressed, and/or disconnected.
Please see the topic Stress Management on this website. This section provides great tips to empower everyone to bring more calm and perspective into their lives!
Monitor your child for mood changes and behavioural changes. Get professional help if you notice:
- Their mood is consistently low or flat
- They appear scared, worried or anxious a lot of the time
- You notice changes in their eating or sleeping habits, or they are not taking care of themselves (e.g. not showering)
- They are no longer interested in doing favourite activities
- They are talking about dying or not wanting to live anymore
If you are worried about their safety please call 9-1-1 or take them to the nearest emergency department.
Taking Care of the Caregiver: Temperature Check
When you fly on an airplane, the safety video instructs you to put on your oxygen mask before helping others. We are less capable/effective of helping others when we ourselves are depleted. If we don’t take care of ourselves we can experience burnout: stress, exhaustion, irritability, sleeplessness, poor concentration, tearfulness, etc. This can impact your ability to support your child.
This concussion is an added stressor on top of whatever else is going on in the family, and in one’s personal and/or professional life.
We all need help sometimes. If you think you are experiencing some of these burnout symptoms more days than not, it’s important to speak with your health care provider about options for support.
You’ve just learned about ways to provide practical and emotional support to your child. If this area is important to you, you can consider creating an action plan.
Here are some ideas:
- Communication - Practice a communication technique (e.g., active listening/reflective responding) with your child this week.
- Connection - Plan an evening walk as a family or another enjoyable activity, such as family board game night.
- Stress-Management - Make a plan to review the topic Stress-Management on this website to learn tools to cope, and to help your child cope.
- Recognize and Reflect- Note and intentionally highlight a success your child had this week in their recovery. It can be something very small (e.g., woke up on their own for school).