What is a chronic illness?
A chronic illness is an illness that has complex causes and several risk factors, and leads to functional impairment or disability. Most chronic illnesses are generally not cured completely and require continual medical treatment. Usually, such illnesses are not always the cause of death but linger throughout one’s life. In certain cases, however, chronic illnesses can be life-threatening such as advanced forms of cancer and stroke.
How can your chronic illness affect the life of your child?
While a chronic illness can disrupt your ordinary lifestyle in many ways and make it difficult for you to cope, it poses challenges for your child as well. Children in general face confusion and trauma when they find their parent unable to perform his/her usual activities and resort to rest most of the time. Hurt and angry, they struggle to realize what is amiss.
However, the right knowledge and education about long-term illnesses can go a long way in helping the child effectively understand and accept the same in his/her parent. Indeed, children have considerable power to restore normalcy in such situations. Instead of suffering quietly, children can actively contribute toward lessening the crisis and boosting their parent’s mood.
Here are some tips to help your child cope with your chronic illness:
- Let him/her know that it is okay to feel disappointed
Emotions such as disappointment, anger, and frustration are natural for a child who sees his once active and energetic parent deteriorate to the point of having limited movements. When a parent is unable to engage in as much fun as the little one wants, the latter is hurt. He/she acutely feels his own deprivation of joy and is therefore frustrated. However, in this particular scenario, it is perfectly okay for him/her to feel this way.
- Inform him/her gently about the chronic illness
Knowledge of the symptoms and consequences of the chronic illness of the parent can greatly help in making the child empathetic. For example, if the little one learns of the symptoms of a chronic illness such as fibromyalgia, which include continuous muscle pain, moderate or severe fatigue, and stiffness upon remaining in one position for too long, he/she will be more compassionate toward his/her parent’s inability to attend the annual baseball game or ballet recital, or read out stories for long at bedtime.
- Reassure that you’re still there for him/her
You or the child’s parent may have undergone irreversible behavioral changes that restrict mobility and active participation in everyday life. However, that does not change the fact that you are still present for your child in times of need. You can still spend quality time with him/her, give suggestions regarding any problem that he/she faces at school or elsewhere, and have hearty conversations. The child needs to be reassured that irrespective of the circumstances, you are always there by his/her side.
- Express how much your child is wanted
With a general preoccupation with the condition of the parent in the family, the child may feel isolated. Hence, it is important to express how much he/she is wanted and needed by the parent. The child can, by his/her assistance in tasks, support, and hugs, make the chronically ill parent feel much better. It is he/she alone who has this power, which makes his/her presence extremely valuable.
Having a chronically ill parent is challenging, but with the right approach, your child can effectively cope with it. The situation needs to be handled sensitively.
When Danielle’s mother is diagnosed with chronic migraines and fibromyalgia, their family life is affected. However, the family members accommodate by assisting the mother with her household tasks, encouraging her to rest, and supporting her constantly. Chronic illness does not stop Danielle’s mother from expressing her love for the family. Consequently, Danielle learns that fibromyalgia can never take her mother away or change her heart.
Narrated by a young boy struggling with his mother’s illness, this book is a delightful, honest depiction of a family dealing with chronic illness. The story emphasizes the power that children have to make the situation better. It also creates scope for families to discuss the symptoms of chronic illness and their consequences at home.
This story is about Pete, whose father can now barely walk but used to run and swing him around. While Pete feels hurt and frustrated, his father reassures that though he can no longer actively participate in fun activities, he is still the same person. It shows how the little boy understands and accepts his father’s chronic illness.