Should we explain ostomie to children?

When we are a parent, our children can ask us a multitude of questions about all sorts of subjects. Parents who have an ostomy are no exception and their children are apt to ask them uncommon questions such as: What are you hiding under your sweater? What is this noise in your tummy? What is there in this box that you bought? Why do you keep your top on to swim? Parents are sometimes reticent to talk about their ostomy with their children, and even more to show it to them, but curiosity and questioning are still there... The children aren’t fooled; they know that something has changed since dad or mom was in the hospital. Nothing forces parents to have this talk immediately with their children. They could even never have it; it remains a choice for each person.

Sometimes, I meet my patients’ children. It can be by chance while they are visiting their hospitalized parents or when they accompany them to the hospital for an appointment with me. I always ask the parents if they want their children to come in my office too. Some are surprised, not sure what to answer, and for some others the answer is obvious: NO. I do get some "yeses" too, but not frequently.

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In my opinion, talking with the children and answering their questions help them understand what is going on. It can also help parents to accept their situation because their children’s vision is different from the parents’ one. Kids are the best allies to make their parents see things a better way; they have a naivety and a surprising facility, especially at a young age, to accept the difference compared to adults.

So, how should you present your ostomy to your children if you decide to do it? First, you must adapt your language and explanations to the age of your kids. You must also give them the opportunity to ask their questions and answer them as frankly as possible. You could ask someone else to explain it for you if you don’t feel comfortable doing it. You could even take them with you to your appointment with the ET nurse. Pictures and photos can help the children to understand. Present them an image of the digestive system, a photo of people with their equipment visible, etc. Your children may want to see your bag and even your ostomy. If you’re uncomfortable, simply explain to them that you’re not ready yet. With time, you may end up being ready. Start by showing them an example of appliance and a picture of an ostomy. You could even glue an appliance on a doll, a teddy or on their own tummy! One day, your children might finally meet this "little strawberry" that turned your life upside down and made you go through a roller coaster of emotions!

You might be surprised of how easily your children would consider your bag as being normal and almost insignificant. Because in the end, it's just a bag... It doesn’t stop you from doing anything, right? The most important thing is that, with your ostomy, you can enjoy every beautiful moment with your children and be the most wonderful (and normal) hero for them!

Clinical nurse and Nurse Specialized in Wound, Ostomy and Continence

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