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Having wobbles around hot things

When a child suffers a burn injury, is it understandable that they might feel wobbly and anxious around things that are hot or warm.

Their brain has made a link between warm and hot things to getting burned and being in pain. To avoid getting burned again, the brain says ‘no’ about going too close to hot things. Hopefully, this will help to protect your child from being burned again.

Why is my child anxious around warm or hot things?

However, it might also result in your child getting worried about taking a bath, or being in the kitchen when you are cooking or the kettle is boiling. They may get anxious when people mention the words ‘warm’ or ‘hot’. This may lead to your child struggling when having treatment at the hospital and something is described as ‘warm’ for example, having a splint fitted.

It is important to know that this is a really normal and understandable reaction to a burn injury, and that their wobbles will hopefully reduce with time.

What can I do to help?

Continue to use the words ‘warm’ and ‘hot’ to describe things. Avoiding using words like this can reinforce the message that they need to be afraid.

When you notice that your child is feeling wobbly, vocalise their feelings and validate their experiences. You might say ‘I can see that you are feeling worried about having a bath, being in the kitchen, having your splint fitted. That is a really normal way to feel after your burn or scald. You are safe now.’

Reinforce times when they have managed to overcome the wobbles, by talking to them about it afterwards. You might say ‘I could see you were really worried about getting in the bath, but then you got in and are now squeaky clean. What a great job! How do you feel now?’

If bath times are particularly difficult, keep things fun. Are there any toys they particularly like to play with in the bath? You could get some new bath toys, or bath lights, or bath crayons, or a snorkel to go snorkelling in the bath. You could join them in the bath so you can have fun together.

Encourage general play with warm water. Fill a paddling pool with warm water, or wash plastic toys together in warm water. Talk to your child about the lovely warm water, to get them used to the idea that warmth is a positive thing, rather than something to be afraid of.

Use relaxation techniques on a regular basis with your child so that they know what to do when they are feeling anxious.

What if I am the one who feels anxious?

As a parent or carer, you are also much more likely to be worried about your child around hot things too. Again, this is really normal and understandable.

Try to put in firm, confident boundaries around the things that your child does need to have a healthy fear of, and do your best to be calm and confident around things you know are an appropriate heat. Your child will feed off your anxieties, so if you are feeling wobbly around baths too, try and ‘fake it until you make it’.

If after a few months your child is not showing any signs of improvement, a referral to psychology might be helpful. Please discuss with the burns team who can make the referral.

Resources and ideas

Breathing exercises

Muscle relaxation exercises

Guided imagery

Mindfulness and meditation

  • Sitting still like a frog: Mindfulness exercises for kids (and their parents). Book by Elaine Snel.
  • Relax Kids: Aladdin’s magic carpet and other fairy tale meditations for children. Book by Marneta Viegas.
  • Corys Conscious Living YouTube channel has children’s bedtime stories and meditation.

Worry and anxiety

  • What to do when you worry too much: A kid’s guide to overcoming anxiety. Book by Dawn Huebner and Bonnie Matthews.
  • The huge bag of worries. Book by Virginia Ironside and Frank Rodgers.
  • Little mouse’s big book of fears. Book by Emily Gravett.
  • Don’t panic, Annika! Book by Juliet Bell.
  • Halibut Jackson. Book by David Lucas.

Feelings and emotions

  • My many coloured days. Book by Dr Suess.
  • Let’s talk about feeling sad. Book by Joy Berry.
  • What makes me happy? Book by Catherine Anholt.
  • Chill. Book by Carol Thompson.
  • All kinds of feelings: A lift-the-flap book. Book by Emma Brownjohn.

Self-esteem and feeling different

  • What’s different about you? Book by Heather Steiger.
  • It’s okay to be different. Book by Todd Parr.
  • Blue Penguin. Book by Petr Horacek.
  • I’m special, I’m me! Book by Ann Meek.
  • Giraffes can’t dance. Book by Giles Andreae.

Attending hospital appointments

  • Hospital (first time). Book by Jess Stockham.
  • Little Princess: I don’t want to go to hospital. Book by Tony Ross.
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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: PSY19

Resource Type: Article

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