By Shawn S. Lealos

In the U.S., nearly 30 million children and young adults participate in some form of organized sport, and while it’s encouraging to see our youth get involved in physical activity, this increase in active play is also leading to a rise in sports-related injuries. Most of these injuries, thankfully, are minor cuts, scrapes and bruises. However, when it comes to recovering from a more serious injury like a broken arm or ACL tear, some children may have to undergo a lengthy recovery process to work their way back to good health.

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When walking around on crutches or with an arm in a brace and sling, it can be easy for a child to think the worst and start to lose confidence that he or she will never be the same again. As a parent of a child recovering from a sports-related injury, it’s important to monitor both their physical recovery and their emotional state to ensure the child remains optimistic and doesn’t become too discouraged.

Set Goals, But Keep Them Realistic

Setting goals with your child and his physician can be very beneficial during the recovery process. Knowing what milestones to look forward to and working on reaching them empowers your child to take an active part in their own recovery. Just be sure that these objectives are realistic and set to an achievable timeline; setting goals that are too high or expecting a child to reach them too quickly can have a stifling effect on your child’s self-confidence.

So, how do you set realistic expectations with your child regarding recovery? It’s important to discuss the recovery process with your child’s doctor and to remain closely involved throughout the process. Learn about the rate of recovery for your child’s age and injury, and talk to a physical therapist about exercises that you and your child can work on together at home. Adjust expectations and goals if recovery is coming more slowly than expected, and ensure your child knows that everyone heals differently – they should think of these milestones not as hard deadlines, but as benchmarks on the road to recovery.

Ensure They’re Actively Participating In Their Own Recovery

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It’s important for you to be there during this recovery process, but it’s equally important that your child take the onus upon him or herself to work towards getting better. Once your child’s recovery goals are mapped out, ensure they are working on meeting them. It can be easy for a once active child to feel defeated after suffering an injury that prevents him or her from participating in many of the activities once enjoyed. Ensure your child doesn’t become lazy or unmotivated by offering to do exercises with them, checking in often on progress, and lending an empathetic ear and words of support when your child is feeling apathetic. Those recovery benchmarks will come more quickly and be much more rewarding for your child if he or she puts in the time and effort to reach them.

Connect With Other Youth Athletes

One of the best ways to help a child remain optimistic is to keep him or her in contact with other children who have suffered through injuries while playing sports. A physical therapist might know of a support group you and your child can join, or a coach may know other kids who suffered similar injuries.

For example, if a child tears their ACL, it could really help to meet another kid who also suffered this injury, but who is further along in rehabilitation—or has already returned to the field. Actively seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for another child who was recently going through the same thing can be much more effective than reassurances from parents and doctors. The important thing here is for your child to understand that he or she is not alone, and that others have dealt with the same physical and emotional pain that they are going through.

Remain Involved With The Team

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It’s also a good idea to keep your child involved with teammates. While it may hurt at first for your child to see friends take the field while sitting on the sidelines, it will be good for he or she to cheer on teammates, celebrate victories and commiserate over hard-fought losses. Staying involved in off-field team activities will help your child remain connected to their identity as an athlete while preventing the feeling of isolation from teammates.