6 Tips to Help You Talk to Your Kids About Your Arthritis

Use these tips to help enrich the conversation between you and your children about your arthritis and overall health.

By Maria Z. Leach | April 21, 2023

Whether you have a toddler, an elementary school student, or a teenager, kids can often sense when a parent is in pain. If you’re a parent living with arthritis, your kids may witness you struggling with everyday tasks, overhear you on the phone with your doctor, or watch you take medicine — all of which can be confusing and scary if they don’t understand the cause. Here are six tips to help you navigate the task of talking to your kids about your arthritis.

1. Be open and honest.

While it may seem like a good idea to protect kids from worry by concealing your pain, trying to hide something that impacts them can strain the trust in the parent-child relationship. Kids tend to be very perceptive, and if they think something is being kept from them, they may get the message that whatever they aren’t being told is very scary. So, tell your kids the truth about your arthritis and be honest about the pain it causes, but remind them that your family can face any problem together. Being open about challenges is also a great way to model resilience.  

2. Consider each of your kids, individually. 

Being honest is the best strategy, but you don’t need to tell a toddler everything you might say to a teenager. Each child is also unique, with their own learning and communication styles. Some kids love science and facts and may want lots of information; others may be sensitive and prefer to only process the most relevant points. Use what you know about each of your kids to choose the best way to approach them with age-appropriate information. 

3. Ask and encourage questions. 

As you talk, make sure to check in with your kids to see if they have any questions, and try to correct any misunderstandings. If you don’t know how to answer, be truthful and tell them you will try to find out. Ask your kids how they are feeling too, and give them space to safely share whatever emotions they may have. Reassure them that no matter what happens, they will always be loved and cared for. For younger kids, it may be helpful to ask them to tell their favorite stuffed animal about your arthritis and how it makes them feel. 

4. Read together.

If your kids are struggling to understand or accept your arthritis, reading together may help. For younger kids, there are some children’s books with stories about parents who live with chronic illnesses. Examples include, “Why Does Mommy Hurt?” by Elizabeth M Christy, “Some Days: A Tale of Love, Ice Cream, and My Mom’s Chronic Illness” by Julie A Stamm, and “Ravyn’s Doll – How to Explain Fibromyalgia to Your Child” by Melissa Swanson. Even if your diagnosis differs from the parent in the story, these books can normalize your family’s situation and be a comfort to kids. 

5. Let them help.

Some kids may want to know how they can help you and finding ways to get them involved can be very empowering. Even a toddler can support a parent by bringing you a blanket or letting you borrow one of their stuffed animals when you rest. As kids get older, preschoolers can pick up toys or set the dinner table, while older kids can do physical tasks like taking out the trash. Letting your kids help can prevent added strain on your joints and allow you to conserve energy to have fun together instead.  

6. Continue the conversation. 

Arthritis will be an ongoing feature of your life, so this conversation needs to continue as well. The dialogue should evolve as your health changes and as your kids reach different stages of their development, and as a result, a deeper and better understanding of your condition. Try to create an environment where your kids know they can always come to you for information or support. As your kids learn more about your arthritis, you may also find they learn more about resilience, compassion and how to strengthen the bonds between you. 

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