Helping Children to Cope with a Parent’s Chronic Illness
Educating children about your chronic illness
By January 2, 2014 1,192
It is much easier to share news of a chronic illness diagnosis with the adults in your life, than it is with your children. But you cannot hide chronic illness from children, because it affects your life daily and once you are diagnosed, there is no turning back. Admitting that things will change for you and your children is hard but it can be easier when you are honest about change and how it will affect everyone’s lives.
Children Are Affected By a Parent’s Illness
More than 133 million people in the United States live with a chronic condition, this according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number continues to rise and there is a high percentage of chronically ill people raising children.
To date, however, there has been little information about the impact that a parent’s chronic illness has on children. This is because chronically ill parents, for the most part, require themselves to act “normal” and to accommodate their life and their parenting despite chronic illness.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, child’s adjustment to a parent’s illness depends on a number of factors, including the type and severity of a parent’s disease; the age and gender of the children; time of disease onset; degree of impairment; and characteristics of treatment. Further, a parent’s medical condition can have an adverse impact on children’s behavior and psychological adjustment, with adolescents being the most affected, according to research at Northwestern University. This is because older children are more mature in their thinking, can identify with their parent and better understand the challenges illness brings with it.
How You Can Help Your Children
How do you cope with chronic illness and still be the best parent you can be? You do that by helping your children to cope.
Be Honest Children, just like adults, find uncertainty difficult, especially when it comes to illness. Therefore, it is vital to explain your illness to your children, using discretion as to what information is age appropriate. Try to inform while reassuring, without being dishonest about your health.
Encourage Children to Express Feelings Children worry too and they don’t always show it. They learn to stay positive so their parents don’t worry. Further, they look to their parent who is trying to be positive as a cue they should not express their feelings. Help children by starting the conversation. Simply ask how they are feeling and remind them that their feelings are important, even the scary stuff. Reassure them with kind words and lots of hugs.
Watch Yourself Chronic illness has an effect on the way a parent functions and fulfills their parenting duties. If you find that your parenting skills are suffering as a result of your illness, correct this by seeking solutions. This could involve resting or asking a family member or friend for help or looking into professional counseling. Remember your children are watching so this is a good time to teach them what healthy coping looks like.
Strive For a Normal Family Life Keeping things normal and unchanged can help children to continue their lives without interruption. However, that is not always possible and there are things that may have to change. Explain to children what things might change and how and when these changes will occur. Having an idea of what’s to come with a timeline and a plan, helps the entire family better adjust to challenges as they arise.
Pay Attention to Coping Difficulties A child who has a chronically ill parent may develop behavioral problems in response to the illness or watching a parent deal with the challenges of an illness. A child may see the illness has something that takes away their parent’s attention. These feelings are marked by acting out, or through development of anxiety, depression and/or withdrawal.
What Can Be Gained
While it seems unfair that your children have a parent who is chronically ill, your children are gaining much from this experience. If anything, it allows them the opportunity to be more independent and for you to develop a relationship with them that involves sharing and family problem solving. Further, it gives children the opportunity to see their parent as a human being who gets sick and gets better. Last and most importantly, they learn that despite illness you still can provide them with love and kindness and that your love for them doesn’t change no matter how bad you feel.