Helping Your Teen Cope with Chronic Illness
Your teenager has recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness. This is an illness that lasts long-term and may have no cure. Examples of chronic illnesses are asthma, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, and diabetes. The teen years are a time of great emotional and physical change. And a chronic illness can add issues and challenges for both you and your teen. But there are things you can do to help you and your child cope.
Helping your child adjust
- Acknowledge your child's feelings about his or her diagnosis of an illness. Your child may be angry, upset, or scared. This is normal and expected. Give your child comfort. But don't shelter your child from the truth about his or her condition.
- Check in with your child often about:
- How he or she is feeling, emotionally and physically
- Whether he or she is following their treatment plan
- Whether he or she wants you to do more or less to help (let your child tell you how much responsibility they feel they can handle)
- Praise your child for taking an active part in his or her treatment and following directions without resistance.
- Don't yell or get angry if your child won't follow his or her treatment plan. Instead, work with your child and your child's doctor. Discuss ways to adjust the treatment plan so your child will be more willing to follow it.
- Let your teen be a teen. As much as possible, let your child do things that his or her friends are doing (such as sports, after-school activities, and field trips).
- It's not uncommon for a responsible teen to burn out on taking care of a chronic illness. If this happens, it's okay for you to take over some responsibilities from your child until your child is ready to take them back.
Maintaining your perspective
After the diagnosis of a chronic illness, you and your child have new challenges. But never forget that your child is still a child. Don't let the illness dictate how you parent or change your relationship with your child. Here are some tips:
- Maintain discipline, rules, and boundaries for your child. Don't let your child off the hook in terms of behavior or responsibility because of the illness.
- Avoid becoming overprotective or overbearing. You may be tempted to control your child's choices and actions to help keep him or her safe. But this will hurt your child in the long run. Let your child take some responsibility. This may mean that your child makes mistakes. But learning from mistakes is an important part of growing up.
- Treat your child like a normal teen as much as possible.
Following up with your child's doctor
Make sure your child sees his or her doctor regularly. But don't let the chronic illness overshadow the rest of his or her healthcare needs. Be sure to take your child to see a primary care doctor for regular checkups and to discuss normal teen concerns.
Watching for anxiety or depression
It's normal for your child to have trouble adjusting to having a chronic condition. In the short term, worry, sadness, or fear is to be expected. But if they last, they may be signs of a more serious problem. If you notice any of the following, tell your child's healthcare provider right away:
- Excessive crying
- Big changes in appetite or weight
- Not sleeping or sleeping too much
- Talking about feeling hopeless or worthless
- Loss of interest in family, friends, or activities that were once enjoyed
- Increase in reckless or risk-taking behavior
- Increased irritability
Get support for your child and yourself
In a support group, you and your teen can talk to others in the same situation. These groups can offer advice, help, and understanding. There are groups for specific conditions and groups for parents, teens, and families. Ask your child's doctor or other healthcare provider about local support groups. Or call your local hospital and ask for referrals.
Ask your doctor for good resources for the illness your child has. You can also search the Internet or your local library for other organizations. Below are some suggestions for general information on coping with chronic illness.
- C. Everett Koop Institute http://geiselmed.dartmouth.edu/koop/resources/chronic_illness
- Center for Parent Information and Resources www.parentcenterhub.org