There is nothing pleasant about being told you have a chronic illness, and the situation is much worse when you find that your child is the one with the chronic illness.
Most parents would trade places in a heartbeat, but that’s not usually an option. As a parent you need to be able to find a way to deal with the issues your child is facing and to be strong for them, and that’s not always an easy process.
These 6 tips for parenting a child with a chronic illness will help.
Common Types Of Chronic Illness In Children
A chronic illness is anything that lasts longer than 12 months and is likely to have some impact on daily life. What may surprise you is that between 10-30% of children will be affected by a chronic illness.
The most common examples include cystic fibrosis, asthma, congenital heart disease, diabetes, attention deficit, and even depression.
Of course, physical disabilities can also be classed as chronic, such as cerebral palsy or hearing impairments.
Having to take medication regularly can seem daunting and unfair. However, if there is a medication that can help regulate pain, or simply manage a condition, then it’s essential that your child takes it.
Unfortunately, younger children are likely to find it difficult to remember to take the medication and older children may simply rebel.
That’s why you need to teach them, and monitor, their medicines. By educating them about the role of the medicine and how it helps your child will be more cooperative and even willing to do it themselves.
In some cases, such as diabetes, you can actually get medical equipment like continuous glucose monitoring devices online from places like US Med. This can make it more fun for your child to monitor their illness and make it easier for you to educate them.
Don’t forget that it is easier for a child to create a habit of taking medication if you establish clear guidelines and do medication at the same time every day.
In fact, you’re less likely to get any complaints or issues if the medication is simply something you do.
It’s essential that you research the illness in order to be able to answer your child’s questions accurately. This will also help you to decide the best way to deal with any specific issue.
The more you know about the illness the easier you’ll find it to reconcile their behavior with the illness. This can help to make sure your child is behaving properly and not simply blaming their illness even when it is not relevant.
The point is that your child will learn the importance of living with, and dealing with, their chronic illness, without needing to blame everything on it.
Research also tells you about what alternative options may be available and whether you should be trying them or not. Although it can be difficult to decide what is best for your child, you have that responsibility, and the more you know about the illness the easier it is to make the right decision.
Even the happiest of children will have days when it can seem too much, or unfair. These are the days when your knowledge of current research can really be beneficial since you can inspire your child with the possibilities available in the future. Of course, they need to know that these are possibilities, not certainties.
There is a big difference between knowing as much as possible about the illness, and actually sharing with your child. As a parent, understanding the issues means you can decide which information is most relevant for your child.
But, it is essential that you ensure the channels of communication are always open. The easiest way to do this is to create a habit, every morning or evening you sit down with your child and talk about their day and how the illness has affected them.
On most days this will simply be a formality. But, you’ll be creating a bond of trust between you and your child, when they need to talk to someone, they’ll have no problem opening up to you.
This could actually be beneficial for non-chronic illness-related questions as your child will always have a window open where they can talk to you and express their feelings or concerns.
You should also be aware that a sick child may face extra difficulties at school. One of the most frustrating issues can be the inability to do things that they could previously do. By having a communication window open your child will be able to share this with you and you’ll be able to devise a simple statement to educate their friends.
4. Involve The Family
If you have more than one child it is essential that you involve the other children in the process. This doesn’t mean they have to help in the care of your child with a chronic illness. However, they should be aware of the issues and what is involved.
You’ll also need to find some time to spend with each of your other children, it can be hard to maintain balance but it is essential for all the children. The easiest way to do this is to schedule time with each one.
During this time you do things that the child wants to do, it will help to increase your understanding of their needs and ensure they can come to you with an issue.
Involving the family also means getting parents and other relatives to help. Sharing the burden will make it easier for you to deal with the daily stress and duties that accompany children with chronic illness.
However, when you’re letting various members of your family help look after your chronically ill child, it is very important that you establish behavioral expectations and that everyone knows the limits you’re imposing.
Each member of the family will need to adhere to these limits and expectations as providing consistency to your child is exceptionally important.
The process of going back and forth to hospitals and doctors can be stressful but having a consistent approach at home will help your child to stay grounded and happy.
5. Be Realistic
Having a chronic illness may make it harder for your child to feel like they have any control over their environment. They can also start to act up because they feel that things will never get better for them.
That’s why it is important to give them decisions and other responsibilities, in the same way as you would with your other children. However, you must also be realistic. This means being honest about future prospects and realistic with your day to day expectations.
It’s better that your child has one decision to make and feels good about making it, than being told to make half a dozen decisions and feeling overwhelmed.
The same is also true for their school. It is imperative that you talk to their teachers regarding what is realistic to expect from them, it will allow the teachers to give them the support they need.
But, it is also essential that you understand what your child can do and should be allowed to try. It’s natural to become overprotective but this won’t benefit your child in the long run. They should be allowed to try as many things as possible, just as you would with any other child you have.
6. Time Out
There is no doubt that looking after a child with a chronic illness is stressful. While reports suggest that mothers will have higher stress levels than fathers, it still doesn’t change the fact that it is stressful.
This is why it is essential that you make sure that you have time for yourself. It doesn’t matter if you have a spa day, a shopping day, or simply take time out to read your favorite book. The key is to have time to yourself when you can forget about all family issues for a short while.
This will ensure your stress levels drop. Consistently high levels of stress have been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular and other diseases. You don’t want to get ill when looking after your child, that’s why you need to give yourself a break every so often.
In the same way that you schedule time for the rest of the family, schedule yourself some downtime, you deserve it and you’ll be a better parent for it.
Children are surprisingly adaptive, in many cases the inability to do things is scarier than the outcome of their illness.
Being a parent to a child with a chronic illness means increases your normal levels of patience, empathy, and understanding. This won’t come naturally to everyone but you can also get help.
Just as you expect your child to get help when it is offered, you should also be willing to speak to counselors and other helpers, confiding in someone outside of the family allows you to be completely honest and get the support you need.
The better supported you are the easier it will be to give your child the care they need and deserve.