The most counter-intuitive discovery we have made through this process with my older son, Aden, is that he wants to be involved in the things we want to shield him from the most. There is a ritual my husband and I do every morning and evening where he “strips” and empties my surgical drains. Ill spare you the details but it is pretty gory, and never the type of thing one would think a 3-year-old should be involved in. After my dad left and it was just Nick and I, we had to pretty much lock Aden out of our room to get this done. He is a very curious, wickedly smart and fairly anxious kid. He was not going to tolerate us doing something he knew was related to my surgery literally behind closed doors. This approach was not working for us. We wrestled with what to do, and choose a path counter intuitive to us as parents who always want to shield our kids from harm. We decided to involve him in this gory ritual. This worked almost instantly, no more tantrums or anxiety fits before bedtime.
Now before bedtime every night, Aden holds the waste container while my husband strips the drain. Aden then passes the container to Nick. Nick dumps the drains and reseals them. Then, and this is the most important part, Aden applies two band-aids, one to each of my hands. Aden will tell you the band-aids are the most important part, and he is right. He beams with pride after applying his band-aids. Aden takes his job very seriously; he never forgets and reminds us what we need to do every night. He feels that he is an important part of helping mom heal in an active way. He feels in control. He asks a lot of questions, including whether I am going to drink the drain fluid (we had a good laugh over this one), and we try to answer them honestly in his language. Each family and child are different, this is certainly not the way for every kid. But this counter intuitive approach worked for us. Once we opened the closed door on the gory process he feared, he adopted a sense of control, pride and even peace. For Aden, living with the monster by his side is better than the ghost in the closet.