Toddlers may “understand” that mom is sick, but only with reference to their knowledge of having a cold or the flu. Mom’s absence and changes in routine will be a significant stressor. Temporary caregivers may be tempted to do everything for the child, which reduces independence and confidence.
In some cases, children may undergo regression, acting younger than they are – for example, having “accidents” when they’re already potty-trained. They may act out as a way of processing intense emotion, and their eating and sleeping patterns may change during stressful periods.
How to help:
- Encourage consistency with caregivers and daily routines. Predictability makes toddlers feel safe. Offer them choices whenever possible to give them a sense of control. Ask if they want peas or carrots, or let them choose between the red shirt and the yellow one.
- Involve them in mom’s treatment and care if possible so they don’t feel left out – “Mom isn’t feeling well because of her medicine, can you please bring her a glass of water?” Encourage learning through exploration and play.