Family Dynamics

Adapted from an article originally published in Kids Get Arthritis Too

Having a child with arthritis often adds a new dimension of sibling rivalry.  Siblings of children with chronic illness often run the gamut of emotions- experiencing guilt, resentment, anger, loneliness and a feeling they never get enough attention.  But, experts say, with a little effort and creativity, the family can work through these issues - and even come out stronger as a result.  One of the keys to warding off ill will is keeping everyone involved. It can be tough to be the brother or sister of a child who has a chronic illness that requires extra support from the rest of the family.  Make sure that all the children have a say in family plans, and try to spread out the chores among all family members, choosing tasks that you child with arthritis can handle successfully.

Before families reach the dilemma of sorting out who will do what chores, an immediate impact is felt as new challenges arise almost as the moment of diagnosis.  Routines are altered to fit in doctor's appointments, therapy sessions and time to take medications.  When a child has a flare the whole family is affected.  Even leisure activities become different to accommodate limitations.  Children also have to get used to not being as active with their sibling. 

Experts agree that adjusting to a new family reality begins with open communication.  Parents are encourage to listen to their children's needs.  Finding alone time with each child is a strategy often employed.  That quality time can also occassionally be shared with someone outside the family.  Parents are also advisied to check in with siblings periodically to gauge how they're doing.  They can assuage some of the sibling guilt, acknowledging that such feelings as jealousy or resentment are normal.


When to Seek Help

When is a child really suffering from the effects of having a sibling with arthritis? Joanna Fanos, director of the Sibling Center at California Pacific Medical Center, advises parents to seek help if children:

  • Start acting out as a result of keeping feelings inside.
  • Gt into more accidents, because they're distracted, upset or angry, they're not taking care of themselves, or they're trying to get attention.
  • Exhibit clingy behavior - especially younger children.  "They may have separation anxiety if they feel mom and/or dad is away at doctor's appointments or at the hospital all the time."
  • Find unhealthy ways to comfort themselves - through overeating, drinking (adolescents) or bad relationships.
  • Start showing anxiety about getting sick, thinking that getting arthritis could happen to them.

Download the full article (PDF).

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