Helping Kids Cope With Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (SJIA)

Help your child deal with the challenges that come with an SJIA diagnosis.

It's natural for parents to want to protect their children—even more so when they have a chronic illness. But it's important for kids with SJIA to maintain regular schedules and routines as their health allows. Here are some important ways you can help your child build strength, independence, and self-reliance:

It's important that children with SJIA feel they have some control over what happens to them. Some things in your child's life aren't negotiable, such as taking medications, going to school, and eating nutritious meals. But others may be more flexible. Give your child options whenever you can. For instance, offer a variety of healthy foods to choose from or let your child decide what to do and where to go on a family outing. Allowing your child to take part in some decisions related to his or her care, such as which medicine to take first or medication delivery method, is another way to encourage independence and a sense of control.

Reassure your child that having SJIA is no one's fault. Explain SJIA in age-appropriate terms and answer all questions honestly. Understanding SJIA and how it affects the body can make the disease less scary. Good communication works both ways, when your child talks, really listen and respond to his or her concerns.

Most children thrive when given the chance to pursue friendships and activities with their peers. Meeting other kids living with SJIA can be especially helpful. The Arthritis Foundation offers various opportunities for connecting with families who know what it's like to live with juvenile arthritis, including SJIA. For kids between ages six and 16, a week at an Arthritis Foundation juvenile arthritis (JA) summer camp can be a life-changing experience. It's often the first time they’ve met children who live with the same challenges and limitations they do, and the friendships are often instantaneous and long-lasting. To learn more about JA camps, contact your nearest Arthritis Foundation office.

Although medication is the mainstay of treatment for kids with SJIA, exercise and physical therapy play important roles in managing joint symptoms, too. When your child’s systemic symptoms are under control, participating in team sports and other physical activities not only helps to keep joints strong and flexible, it also gives kids self-confidence, helps them develop social skills and can lead to lasting friendships. Your child's doctor or physical therapist can provide guidance on appropriate types of sports, physical activities and range-of-motion, and therapeutic exercises.

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