Talking about the heart with small kids

Recently I had a whimsical conversation with my oldest son about his sister’s heart condition.

Out of the blue, Elliot my six-year-old son asked, “What’s that line on her body?,” referring to the vertical scar on the center of Ellis’ chest, his 4 year old sister. This was the first time he noticed.

Taken aback, I stammered an answer.

“Remember how I told you baby has a fragile heart?,” I said putting down down the kitchen towel I was holding.

He nodded yes and went right back to slurping his soup.

“The doctors had to work on her heart to make it better,” I continued.

“You mean INSIDE?,” he said looking up at me abruptly.

“Well that’s where the heart is,” I said.

In a louder voice he asked, “You mean they (the doctors) SHRUNK themselves to do that?”

Out of the corner of the couch, Ellis darted out in her diapers frowning at us: “Are you guys talking about ME?”

This conversation was not going anywhere productive. In their world of make-believe and magic, Elmo is definitely not a puppet, cars develop superhero powers, dinosaurs still roam the earth somewhere, people on TV shows do not live on Earth but inside the TV, and their mommy was born and will continue to remain mommy.

I’m looking forward to meeting with the Child Specialist at the hospital next month: this will occur the day before her heart cath procedure in July. I will learn which words to use, how to approach this delicate topic, and ways to explain surgery to a small child.

This meeting will set a positive precedent for future conversations. It’s a relief that this kind of service is available to stressed-out parents and children facing surgery!

 

 

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