Love vs. Fear: How Being Calm Strengthens Your Sick Child

By Greg Baer M.D.

July 8, 2024

In this conversation with a worried mother, I teach her how staying calm when caring for her sick child can not only strengthen him but also transform a stressful situation into an opportunity for growth and connection.

Helping a Stressed Mother with a Sick Child

A mother, Natalie, called me and said, “I’m just really stressed.” 

“Hmm,” I said. Long ago I learned that victims require other people to feel bad for them and to enable them. One way they do this is to say half of their message and require you to beg them for the rest. I knew I was supposed to ask, “Stressed about what?” but I allowed her to retain responsibility for finishing her half-sentence. 

“My son is sick. I don’t know if I need to take him to the hospital.” 

“I don’t know either, but you do know the difference between having a simple cold or cough and being sicker than that, so if he’s sicker than usual it might be worth calling the pediatrician. Don’t know.”  

“It’s just the stress of worrying about him. My husband’s not home.”  

“So, let’s look at what you’ve got. You’re not in a wagon train on the plains of Wyoming in winter, right?”  

“Well, no, but—” 

“And he’s not dying, so now it’s just about calmly deciding what you want to do. No stress, just choices. Before you ever got married, you wanted to HAVE children and to be a good mother no matter what the circumstances, yes?” 

“Well, yes, I guess so.” 

“And now you’re getting your wish exactly. The only way to learn what it’s like to be a good mother is to practice under conditions that are less than easy. Your son’s illness is easy stuff. The hard stuff is loving and teaching them all the time without anger, for example. So, what does your child need right now?” 

“I gave him some Tylenol.” 

How Worry and Concern Affect a Sick Child  

I laughed. “Sorry, that was a trick question. What he needs is YOU. You being calm. You being a comfort to him. What he DOESN’T need is you being worried and concerned, which are just words we use to hide the real problem: fear.

"When he doesn’t feel good, the last thing he needs is fear, especially from you, his mother. Fear robs him of peace, which is what he needs. Fear stresses him emotionally and physically, which makes his illness even worse.  

“I never thought of that.”  

“Of course not. Parents are TAUGHT that if they care about their children, they’re supposed to feel ‘concern’ when their children are sick or in any kind of discomfort. Wrong. They need our love, our stability, our faith—not our concern, which means our fear.

"We would like things to be easier—that’s just human of us. So now you have a choice: you can yearn for things to be easier, or you can exercise the faith you need when things are harder. If you really understand that, you can actually ENJOY this experience of your son being sick.” 

“Impossible.” 

“Not kidding. You can practice being faithful and loving. You can see how that soothes your son’s soul—and yours. Your love lifts him up in sickness and often relieves his suffering. You can be grateful that you have this opportunity to love him when things are hard.

"My dear, I’d rather eat cake all day than do some of the things I’m responsible for, but that would be irresponsible. I am here to learn. And have fun doing it.

"How about you? Do you want to see what it’s like to love him without worrying? It's fun. Love him like he wasn’t sick. No sympathy, just love. If you look concerned, he will be too.”  

“I’ll try it.” 

Being Calm Strengthens Both You and Your Child 

Later that day, Natalie wrote to say that she’d gone into her son’s room and offered to play a game or to read a book to him. He didn’t have the energy for a game, so she read to him until he fell asleep.

She said, “His breathing became easier as I read to him while I put my hand on his chest. I could SEE the effect on him of my being calm. I would never have believed it possible, but loving him while he was sick was FUN.”  

Parenting is always about the loving and the teaching. First the loving, without fear, and then the fun. 

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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