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Helping Children Cope with Chronic Illness


Helping Children Cope with Chronic Illness

Greg Snyder, Ph.D.
​Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health

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.

When a child is diagnosed with a chronic illness it can be challenging emotionally for both the parent and child. Greg Snyder, Ph.D., a licensed Psychologist with Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health provides guidance on parenting a child with a chronic illness and tips on coping with emotional changes.