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Coping with Chronic Illness


​Coping with chronic illness can be​​ tough for anyone. Parents of a child with a chronic illness may also be faced with their child’s emotional and behavioral challenges. There are different factors that can determine these challenges, such as the age at which the child was diagnosed and management of the particular illness or disease.

There are a few ways that a child may react to their disease, which include:

  • Depression – The child may become withdrawn or isolated from others and display a lack of care about their self.
  • Anxiety – The child may be anxious about going to clinic, meeting with his physician or completing different procedures.
  • Defiance – The child may refuse to receive care or take medication.

Typically, any behavioral problem the child may exhibit will revolve around medical care. Receiving medical treatment for an illness may cause the child to feel different from other children. Defiance towards medical care, such as lashing out towards a doctor or parent, may stem from the desire to be normal. The following are several methods a parent can use to help their child cope with the diagnosis and care of an illness:

  • Reassurance – Provide guidance and coaching on how to manage the illness with a positive attitude.
  • Distraction – There is nothing wrong with helping a child distract himself, especially during short, simple procedures. Children who are distracted during treatment end up noticing less pain.
  • Reward – No matter what the child’s reaction is to the treatment, it is important to reward him for getting through it.

A parent’s communication style, both verbal and nonverbal, can be a powerful influence during the treatment process. Frequent reassurance and/or reprimands can actually raise the child’s anxiety. For this reason, parents should encourage their child’s effective coping efforts. If your child begins to exhibit anxiety in anticipation of the painful procedure, praise behavior that serves as a distraction from his anxiety such as looking away or talking about their favorite toy.

Have your child identify a variety of activities, discussion topics, etc. prior to the procedure. Make a plan with your child to use certain items/activities during the procedure. Building effective coping skills is something your child can learn with practice.

  • Helping Children Cope with Chronic Illness

    How do children adjust to chronic illness?

    ​​There are multiple variables involved. One is the age at which that child is diagnosed.

    The older children, particular adolescents, as they're trying to manage the social expectations in junior high and high school, that has an effect on their adjustment. Also, the disease itself, whatever it is they are handling or managing, the degree to which it impairs their life and the involvement of medical care.

    What are common reactions in children with chronic illness?

    It can come about in the presence of depression, withdrawal, isolation and the lack of care about themselves. It can be anxiety in relation to coming in to clinics, meeting with their physician and getting specific procedures completed. It can also be in the form of defiance, refusal to do their care or refusal to take their medications.

    When it comes to behavioral problems, typically, you are going to see it surrounding that medical care. The child has a strong desire to be normal and doing these and engaging in these kinds of activities, while it might be in their best interest down the road, children aren't necessarily focused on that.

    What can parents do to help their child?

    It's important for parents to reassure their children and to provide them with some guidance and coaching on how to manage it positively. But there is nothing wrong with helping their child distract themselves. We find time and time again that those children, that are able to distract themselves during short, simple procedures, end up reporting less pain.

    Making it fun and even providing a reward for getting through it, not necessarily for getting through it well, but simply getting through it.

Pediatric IBD Pediatric Gastroenterology