A chronic childhood disease or illness — a health problem that lasts for three months or more, disrupts your child's normal activities, and requires frequent hospitalizations or extensive medical care — can create significant challenges for your child and family.
Because a chronic disease affects your child and family over a longer time, your child may be at particular risk of stress and emotional and behavioral problems such as anxiety, depression, aggression, delinquency and noncompliant behavior.
Taking steps to cope with the ups and downs of your child's chronic illness can help manage the stress that comes with the experience.
Your child may have little to no understanding of illness, which can lead to confusion, fear and even self-blame if your child somehow believes that the illness is his or her fault. Prevent or ease any bad feelings by communicating openly in an age-appropriate way about what's going on.
- Allow your child to make as many decisions as possible regarding diagnosis and treatment, such as picking what day to go to the doctor. A feeling of control can help your child retain a sense of identity.
- Avoid being overprotective. Your instinct may be to rein in your child to protect him or her. But try not to limit your child's activities unless it's medically necessary. Maintain your family's regular routine as much as possible.
- Don't provide too much medical information when speaking to your child about what's going on, but provide age-appropriate facts.
- Talk with your child about what he or she is feeling. This can help you understand what aspects of your child's life are stressful or upsetting, so you can focus on those areas.
- Talk with your child about ways to explain what's happening to other children who may be curious. Ill kids can sometimes feel isolated when they're in school or around friends.
You don't have to go through this by yourself. Friends and family members care about you and are looking for opportunities to help. Other parents with chronically ill children are eager to give and receive support. Reaching out to others not only will help take some of the stress off but can also strengthen your existing relationships and build new ones.
- Ask family and friends for help. Build a support network to help ease your home and office workload.
- Find a specially trained psychologist to help both you and your child manage and cope with chronic illness.
- Join a support group. A support group can be a great source of encouragement and advice from others in similar situations. It can also be a good place to make new friends.
As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don't realize your own health and well-being are suffering. To provide the best care for your child, don't forget to take care of yourself.
- Eat healthy foods and make time for exercise.
- Continue engaging in hobbies you enjoy. Keeping up with your mental health is just as important for your child as it is for you.
- Let go of unnecessary obligations. For example, take time off from volunteering, if you do that, and let go of guilt — your house doesn't have to be perfect, and it's OK to eat leftovers a few days in a row.
June 25, 2014
- Compas BE, et al. Coping with chronic illness in childhood and adolescence. Annual Reviews of Clinical Psychology. 2012;8:455.
- When your child is diagnosed with chronic illness: How to cope. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-illness-child.aspx. Accessed May 21, 2014.
- Coping with a diagnosis of chronic illness. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-illness.aspx. Accessed May 21, 2014.
- Helping children cope with chronic illness. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology. http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Medical_Students_and_Residents/Mentorship_Matters/DevelopMentor/Helping_Children_Cope_with_Chronic_Illness.aspx. Accessed May 21, 2014.