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Discussing amputation with a 4 yr old- help!!(19 Posts)
I am facing a very difficult conversation with my just 4 year old. He knows that Nannie has been in hospital with a poorly foot; what he doesn't know is that now in fact she has had to have her lower leg amputated. We don't see my MIL very often and they are not particularly close. However as she has been so ill ( arterial disease, failed surgery, intensive care etc.) DH is determined to take DS to see her. Not sure how I feel about this, but that is for another time, I obviously have to tackle this topic.
How on earth do I say this. He is quite bright and articulate but obviously doesn't know the word amputate so what can I say.... all the alternatives are so blunt ( cut off???!!!)
Was thinking of drip feeding information on how veins work, our bodies need blood to work and after a couple of weeks explain Nannies veins aren't working in foot and it is making her poorly. But I'm really not sure.
I'm conscious I have to get this right. I don't want him to make the connection that having a poorly foot/ hand/ whatever could mean that it gets chopped off ( sorry I'm not being flippant ). How many times do we say to children "ooh it's not that bad I don't think I'll need to chop it off!".
The other element playing on my mind is that he is very into pirates. Particularly how Captain Hook has no hand and some pirates have peg legs. Is this a way into it?? I'm so sorry if you think I'm being insensitive but I really don't know what to say.
Thanks for reading
I think I'd say something along the lines of they couldn't make her foot better but wanted to stop the rest of her getting poorly too so they've taken the bAd bit off. Say she only has one leg now but it's ok cos that's what's best for her to feel better and re doctors will help her work out a way to get around etc. explain that it's very rare so he isn't worried about it happening to him.
Also, get the film of "How to Train Your Dragon" on DVD: the boy loses his foot in battle, gets a prosthetic and adapted saddle and carries on riding/flying his dragon. Very uplifting ending, and a good way to show that you can carry on with bits missing.
Children can be very matter of fact about illness - my Mum had major surgery on her face when DD was little,which completely changed her appearance,without any of her grandchildren batting an eyelid.They just continued to see "Grandma" (my sister's eldest would have been 4 at that point)
I think your chat about blood supply and how Nannie's veins in her foot aren't working sounds quite good.Perhaps a bit about these thing happening as people get older?And he may ask questions so you'll have a better idea how he is thinking about it. Not sure about the pirate bit - is he likely to comment on that to his Nannie??
Thanks Bee, good advice. It's the 'taking the bad bit off' bit of the conversation that I'm dreading as I know he'll question me to death! 'What do you mean taken it off?"
Ooh we have 'how to train a dragon'. Thanks for that tip. Will fish it out.
Agree about children being matter of fact. He probably won't see it as nearly such big deal as you think.
My mum has terminal cancer and we talk about her approaching death quite a lot with my almost 4yo, who accepts it as part of life. I think the more open and normal we are about such things, the easier children will find it to deal with.
Hi agree with the "taken the bad bit off" advice. My DM had her leg amputated through diabetes and I'm sure that's how it was explained to my nephews. They thought it was cool - the oldest was 6 and youngest 3. They both thought granny was going to have to get parrot cause she would obviously now be a pirate and ALL good pirates have parrots!! They were disappointed when pretty Polly did not make an appearance. :-)
I think explain that she was given special medicine so she couldn't feel any pain and then special doctors used special tools to cut the bad bit off.
So sorry about your mum HobKnob.
Thanks for advice.
could you show him some google images of amputees ? (Obviously looking ok.) Just to get him used to the idea, so he has a point of reference...
Another one agreeing that children are matter of fact about these things.
definitely worth mentioning that Grannys leg was really bad so needed to be cut off, so not likely to happen to him, just so he doesn't worry. But don't overthink this, he will most likely be fine about it.
I suspect he will be much less bothered than you think. Why don't you find some photos of people using prosthetics, wheelchairs etc and matter-of-factly say that granny will have a new leg like that / a new wheelchair that she can "drive" instead of walking for a bit (she probably won't get a prosthetic straight away)
My experience of explaining amputation to my admittedly younger son (about 3 when he first noticed my friend was missing several of the usual body parts!) was that he didn't find it gruesome or upsetting in the way that adults do, was totally focused on what she could / couldn't do for about 5 minutes and then went back to tormenting her dog.
Lemon, youv'e hit the nail on head. I'm totally over thinking it,but MN has come to my rescue with some top advice. Thanks all. X
My grandad lost a leg in the War, and we just grew up knowing that he only had one leg. I used to sit on his lap and bang his legs to find out which one was false!
Maybe something along the lines of 'nannie's foot is hurting. The doctors can't make it better, so they're taking it off so it doesn't hurt anymore'.
DD (3 years) and I saw a man with one leg in town the other day, she asked where his leg was, and I explained it that way. It was fine. Kids don't overthink these things very much, they take the world as it comes.
As an amputee I think beawheesht advice is best for small children. Keep it simple so that they understand. Talking about vein etc might just be too much and potentially frightening. My 3yr old ds refers to my residual limb as my 'special leg'. He says its a bit poorly and I reassure him that I'm alright and doctors made me better and he's happy with that. With older children it's initial curiosity then they don't care. Would it be possible to ask your mil how she would like to approach the topic, what she would like to call her leg and whether she comfortable talking about it with your ds if at all? Be open with your mil about the current interest in pirates and explain (I'm sure she'll understand) that he doesn't mean anything by it if he starts comparing. Alternatively, if you can't approach mil about then just say nannie's leg is poorly and she is having trouble walking. If she is wearing a prosthesis he probably won't notice especially as new amputees tend to keep their prostheses well hidden.
Not sure if I've been helpful. Just remember kids don't care about this stuff.
Yes. Another vote for just saying that Nanny's leg is too poorly for the doctors to make better, so they are going to take the bad bit away.
And another vote for watching 'How to train your dragon'. My DDs love the fact that "It's like Daddy's leg!"
To be fair, he's been an amputee since before they were born. When they were little he used to tell them to take their leg off "like Daddy" and it used to be funny watching DD1 tugging at her leg with a confused expression when it didn't pop off.
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