Dealing with Emotional Issues
Having arthritis may be a life-altering experience, but effort should be made to maintain as many of your child's daily routines and comforting habits as possible. Doing so will minimize the potential and natural emotional effects of your child's diagnosis. Your child may feel angry or sad about having arthritis. But be aware that you as parents, siblings and other family members may also have troubling feelings about the disease and its effect on the family. Learning how to cope with arthritis will benefit everyone.
When you are first told your child has arthritis, you might feel shocked, numbed or disbelieving. You might also feel guilty, and ask yourself if something you did or didn't do caused your child's arthritis. While these thoughts are common to all parents whose children are ill, remember that you are not the cause of your child's arthritis.
The child with arthritis may feel many different emotions. Children can feel hurt by an illness that isn't their fault, blame parents for the illness, engage in self-pity, or become angry because of restrictions on activities. They may also resent other children who do not have the disease, including their brothers and sisters.
Other children in the family may feel left out and resentful because of the amount of time and attention to the child with arthritis requires. Or they may feel guilty, as if they had somehow caused the illness.
Children may over identify with the brother or sister with special needs. Some feel a pressure to achieve or make up for what their sibling can no longer do. Others want to involve themselves in care giving to the point that they give up their own normal activities. In these cases, try to help siblings find other ways to deal with their feelings. Let brothers and sisters settle their own differences. Whenever possible, encourage siblings to talk with peers who live in homes with similar concerns.
How You Can Help
The key to dealing with all these emotions is to talk about them with one another. Your attitude toward arthritis will affect the way your child feels about arthritis. Talk to your child about how he/she feels about the illness. Allow your child to express his/her anger about arthritis from time to time.
Expect your child with arthritis to behave as well as other children and have the same responsibilities. Avoid giving him/her special privileges. Your child will benefit by doing chores that he/she is physically able to do.
Encourage your child to learn as much as possible about arthritis and about his/her treatment program. Older children can be responsible for taking medications on time, reporting any medication side effects to you, and following an exercise program. Having these types of responsibilities will help prepare them for the transition to adult health care.
Try not to overprotect your child. Your child might become too dependent if you do everything for him/her or if you keep your child from the tasks that he/she is capable of doing. Don't be manipulated into allowing activities that shouldn't be done, but compromise when you can. Being as consistent as possible will help your child learn what is expected. When your child first becomes ill, you may set aside relationships with other family members. It is important, however, to continue to talk and spend time with others. Plan special time to spend alone with your spouse, or with the entire family.