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As parents, we all want to see our kids thrive socially. But for children with a chronic illness, such as asthma or diabetes, blending in with the crowd can sometimes be a challenge. In addition to the usual stresses of childhood, kids with a chronic condition must also contend with the unfairness of having to monitor their diet or restrict their physical activity, as well as the emotional stigma of appearing “different” from the others. “Parents can help by making it clear to their child that they are partners in the management of the illness, and that the child is not alone,” says Joann Ahrens, Manager of Special Programs at VNSNY’s Children and Family Services Department. “Just remember: A kid still needs to be a kid.”
Your child’s age and illness will dictate the amount and type of help you provide. Here are some examples:
“Children with cerebral palsy will face many challenges right from the moment they’re born,” says Vivian Torres-Suarez, VP Children and Family Services at VNSNY. With support from other family members, teachers and an interdisciplinary health care team, however, parents can help their child cope with the difficulties of living with cerebral palsy, and teach their child to be as independent as possible. Vivian also recommends that parents get counseling for themselves, “to better manage their own understanding of their child’s care, and the impact it may have on the entire family.”
“Tweens with asthma should be taught to recognize the conditions that may trigger an asthma attack for them,” says Vivian. “They should also be encouraged to participate in normal activities, with the understanding that they must adhere to their medication regimen. Since children in this age group can be self-conscious about taking medications in front of their friends, talk to your child’s doctor about managing your child’s medication schedule accordingly.”
“A teen with diabetes needs to become the expert on his or her own illness,” says Joann Ahrens. “Parents will need to figure out which strategies work best for their child and which ones are ineffective. Scare tactics do not work with adolescents. After all, you don’t want to set your child up for failure, or make him feel that he has to lie to you. Try giving your teen easy and realistic options. For instance, rather than instructing your child not to order soda at all when eating out with friends, encourage your son or daughter to order diet soda, instead.”
To find out how VNSNY can help you care for a child with a chronic illness, please call 1-800-675-0391.