When someone we love gets sick, one of the first questions many of us ask is, “How can I help?”
But learning how to be helpful in difficult situations doesn’t always come naturally, especially for children.
A new book by San Diego author Phyllis Schwartz teaches the idea of how helping makes you feel good. It’s called, “When mom feels good, we do too.”
Schwartz will speak and sign copies of her book at Sunday, September 25 at noon. She joined the midday edition Thursday. The interview below has been edited slightly for clarity.
This is a difficult topic to address in a children’s book, A parent’s illness, and I wonder what made you write about it?
Schwartz: It grew out of my own experience as a three-time cancer survivor. I have not had young children through various cancer experiences. My kids were a little older – teens and older adults. But about a year ago, something I wanted to express with a simple and constructive message aimed at young children hit me. Not to underestimate the importance of illness or injury to a family member or loved one, but I do believe showing children and then their families around them that they have the potential to contribute to a more positive outcome when someone has a health threat. And I felt that young children would get overwhelmed by someone in the house who was sick or under the weather and would get frustrated that they wouldn’t really understand how they could contribute. I am very verbal and am in touch with what I need and want, but young children may not be able to recognize those cues. It might be obvious if your mother or grandmother said, “Hey, can you pick up your clothes today? Because I’m feeling bad.” But how do you make children feel that they can be contributors, that they can be useful? So not only do they feel good about it, but then the person they’re helping – in my case that’s the case for me with my friends and family and my kids – I feel like he’s been recovering.
Let me ask you about that. The idea of helping can be very meaningful, not only for the person whose friends and family gather around, but also for the person who is helping. Can you talk about how beneficial healing is?
Schwartz: I think that for me, and for others who may not be feeling well and need healing and help, there is something about knowing that someone wants help is almost as great a feeling as the help itself. It’s just a gesture. It is a feeling of appreciation. When you’re not feeling well and you’re walking around in your shoddy pajamas and I think to myself, and you feel like, “Am I worthy?” You get into these things like, “Do I deserve this attention? Do I want attention?” And I found it was even the smallest gesture and a little bit of help – it was the help, but it was also the idea – that I found really gave me a boost. And when I got sick for the first time, I was alone in Chicago, and I had just gone there to work in a new editing room. And my colleagues, who hardly knew me, were absolutely wonderful. I mean they’ll take me to the hospital, they’ll bring me books, they’ll go get me crackers if I have to go, excuse me, and vomiting from the radiation. So I think there are a few different things here. People can come up with the simplest thing to help make you feel good. Big gestures are great, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have to be a great gesture. And back to young children, they may not have an expense. I’m not talking about going out and buying ice cream for my mom, but they do things to make people feel loved and comfortable. But just the fact that kids can come up with the things they can do: go out and weed – which I talk about in my book – or help Grandma make the bed. I think it is good to prepare people with suggestions that can be achieved.
Have a section of the book to read. Will you share it with us?
Schwartz: Thank you very much for your question. by the way.
It turned out that our mother was sick,
So the doctors came up with a solution.
They pulled out some bumps
They quickly sent her home.
Dad said mom’s recovery will be faster
If you make her laugh and don’t pinch your sister.
Grandma said you can help make mom’s bed
Do not let worries fill your mind.
We made her funny videos and coloring a card,
We even helped weed out daisies in the yard.
I wrote it, but it’s funny. I love him. I love that line when Grandma says, “Don’t let worries fill your mind.”
That’s an important part of this and the part that comes down to kind of helping kids work through their feelings of being overwhelmed and helpless. right?
Schwartz: I’m sure everyone has had a lot of people who’ve had that experience where your parents were whispering in the other room as you lay by the door. I was doing this and you were listening to the crackling. “What’s going on?” It seems that something important is being discussed. And so kids get to, like, end things or whisper. And through this book, I think, I hope it helps families, even people who don’t have families, maybe with their friends. Start a Discussion If you’re not feeling well, what do you need? What do you want me to do? What are some simple things I can do? Even the simplest thing is appreciated.