Child birth is an equally exciting and stressful time for parents. A diagnosis of Cleft Lip or Cleft Palate will undoubtedly affect both the patient and their respective family.
Zaina Alzabin, MSc.
Child &Family Psychotherapist
Masar Consults, Kuwait
Child birth is an equally exciting and stressful time for parents. Every parent hopes to have a healthy baby. A diagnosis of Cleft Lip or Cleft Palate will undoubtedly affect both the patient and their respective family. This experience does not necessarily have to be all negative. Parents may initially experience fear, sadness and sometimes shame over the diagnosis. Parents and care-givers may also express feelings of confusion and a sense of being overwhelmed. These feelings are common and understandable. It is important that diagnostician and doctors take the time to contain and educate families about the diagnosis and prognosis, ensuring that the families have support should they need it.
Finding a support network for the parents is important throughout the treatment process. It is helpful if parents work on acceptance and full understanding of their child’s treatment plan. The support network may include family members, friends, other families and children who have been diagnosed, the child’s medical team, and any psychological support they may require.
Empowering the patient is critical. Parents can sometimes “baby” the patient, which in turn can stunt children’s emotional development and/or encourage feelings of helplessness and dependence. It is natural to fear what children may face in the future. The struggle may not be restricted to the medical challenges, but the social and psychological challenges. Children may face bullying and social pressure from peers. Teaching social emotional skills like resilience and confidence will help children face these challenges more successfully.
Some parents shield their diagnosed children from upcoming surgeries and medical interventions in an effort to “spare” the child from the future. Very often, however, shielding the patient will increase his/her feelings of stress and worry. The unknown is uncontrollable, but the predictable allows a sense of mastery and safety. Shielded children may lose trust in their parents, and they may have complete refusal for medical intervention and develop phobias.
Allowing children to have a sense of mastery, control and autonomy is vital. This can be achieved by including children in their diagnosis and treatment plan. When possible (and not hazardous to their health), parents and doctors should present the patient with some options to choose from regarding their treatment plan and intervention dates. Another important note is to encourage emotional expression and communication which often lead to a calmer more empowered child. Should the child show increased signs of anxiety, defiance or depression, professional consultation is recommended.