How to talk to your child about liver transplantation?


A liver transplant can be a very scary experience for you and your child. For a successful recovery, you will need to play an active role in supporting your child throughout this experience. It is important to make sure your child feels safe and secure. To do this you should explain to them what is happening in their body and what to expect after a liver transplant. The information and detail level you share with your child should be based on your child’s age, developmental level, and personality. Try to include your child in the process. Sometimes when your child is left in the dark, it will be scarier and cause more anxiety that might hinder your child’s recovery.

For younger children, they will need to know the following:

  • They are safe and protected and that you are physically there for them;
  • What will happen and what they can do;
  • That their condition can be managed and treatments work;
  • A general understanding of how their liver works and why it’s not working; Reasons why their activities may be restricted;
  • That they can ask questions during consultations, with your support if required.

For older children, you should let them know:

  • That they are not be defined by their illness;
  • That they can gain control over their condition by working with you and the doctor;
  • Why their condition is managed the way it is and the long-term consequences of their actions;
  • That puberty may change the symptoms of their illness and/or medication needed;
  • That you’re on their side.

Infants will not understand transplant but will benefit from the reassurance and support you give them at home and in the hospital. You should constantly hold them. The warm feel of your skin and the sound of your heartbeat will be enough to let them know they are safe and secure.

Toddlers will be more verbal with many opinions. They may even think they did something bad to deserve the illness or surgery. Remind them that it’s not their fault and you and the doctor’s team are doing their best to fix their liver.

Sometimes you will need to use pictures and simple words to explain medical topics. You can also play doctor at home to make them less scared of nurses and doctors. It is important to talk about the transplant openly so it’s not a surprise when it happens. Making them comfortable about the subject will ensure their cooperation when needed.

For older children you can avoid words that are too simple, words like “good” and “bad.” They are becoming more curious and detail-oriented. Instead, you can use words like “sick,” “healthy” and “well.” It will also be helpful to talk about what to expect after transplant. For example how they will feel, what will happen at home and how they will need to see the doctor frequently to monitor their liver. This discussion also promotes trust between you and your child.

Adolescents and teenager are usually more independent and wanting to be more involved in their health. They are able to grasp more complex concepts about their medical condition, including risks and complications associated with the liver transplant. They will benefit more from your discussions and will probably have their own questions for the medical team. You should be right by their side to help support. They will still need to know you are always there.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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