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Coping with Chronic Illness

By Gregory Snyder, Ph.D.

Helping Child Cope With Chronic Illness

​Coping with chronic illness can be​​ tough for anyone. Parents of a child with a chronic illness may also be faced with their child’s emotional and behavioral challenges. There are different factors that can determine these challenges, such as the age at which the child was diagnosed and management of the particular illness or disease.

There are a few ways that a child may react to their disease, which include:

  • Depression – The child may become withdrawn or isolated from others and display a lack of care about their self.
  • Anxiety – The child may be anxious about going to clinic, meeting with his physician or completing different procedures.
  • Defiance – The child may refuse to receive care or take medication.

Typically, any behavioral problem the child may exhibit will revolve around medical care. Receiving medical treatment for an illness may cause the child to feel different from other children. Defiance towards medical care, such as lashing out towards a doctor or parent, may stem from the desire to be normal. The following are several methods a parent can use to help their child cope with the diagnosis and care of an illness:

  • Reassurance – Provide guidance and coaching on how to manage the illness with a positive attitude.
  • Distraction – There is nothing wrong with helping a child distract himself, especially during short, simple procedures. Children who are distracted during treatment end up noticing less pain.
  • Reward – No matter what the child’s reaction is to the treatment, it is important to reward him for getting through it.

A parent’s communication style, both verbal and nonverbal, can be a powerful influence during the treatment process. Frequent reassurance and/or reprimands can actually raise the child’s anxiety. For this reason, parents should encourage their child’s effective coping efforts. If your child begins to exhibit anxiety in anticipation of the painful procedure, praise behavior that serves as a distraction from his anxiety such as looking away or talking about their favorite toy.

Have your child identify a variety of activities, discussion topics, etc. prior to the procedure. Make a plan with your child to use certain items/activities during the procedure. Building effective coping skills is something your child can learn with practice.