Every parent can feel helpless when their child struggles through some life-altering situation such as a chronic illness. Facing a chronic illness diagnosis puts the family dynamics on a whole new trajectory. While trying to cope with their own fears, parents also need to remain rock-solid support to their children. They are navigating a whole new set of circumstances! Here are five ways to help your child cope with a chronic illness diagnosis.
1. Face and recognize your fears
Nowhere is the metaphor of “putting on your own oxygen mask first” more critical than when helping your teen cope with illness.
Chronic illness carries an impending sense of loss – meaning the loss of hopes and dreams for your child. Both you and your teen have probably spent countless hours discussing and planning out their future together. While your hopes and dreams for them may differ greatly from their own, the reality is you both have them.
The diagnosis of a chronic condition may do anything from putting a serious damper on them to abandoning them entirely. To help your teen face a new reality, you have to put your hopes and dreams to rest so you can focus on their needs.
There is certainly life after a difficult diagnosis, but it may look nothing like what you had imagined up to this point.
It is essential to start dreaming again but in the context of a new reality.
2. Help them shape a new reality in their chronic illness
In some cases, a chronic diagnosis may destroy future plans, or they need to be reshaped and reformed around a new reality. In either case, the sooner you start, the better. One of the best ways to help them is not to simply put a happy face on everything but to help them realistically solve logistics problems.
If they are headed to college, their new reality may include a more rigid diet or medication routine than average. One of the best things you can do for them is to dig in and help them develop a practical means of managing their condition.
Let your child lead the way here. As long as they can establish and carry out an action plan to handle their illness, they will feel like they control the disease and not vice versa. Be a guiding hand, help them build routines, and develop responsibility.
3. Help them find inspirational role models
In the modern world, there are fewer conditions to derail your teen’s hopes and dreams. The world is full of athletes, celebrities, and other successful individuals that live with chronic conditions.
Actor Michael J. Fox has enjoyed a long, storied career despite receiving a diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s disease at the tender age of 29. After a diving accident left her paraplegic at the age of 18, Joni Erickson Tada went on to become an internationally renowned author, speaker, and international disability center founder.
Help your teen understand that whatever challenges they face, there is no reason they cannot move on to live a rich, and successful life.
4. Help them find support for their chronic illness
As mentioned above, both you and your teen will feel grief towards a life you have envisioned for them. While no one moves through the stages of grief in quite the same way, there is no doubt both you and your teen can benefit from getting support from those going through the same things or have gone through them already.
Teenagers tend to believe that no one can possibly understand what they are going through, so one of the best ways to help them get support is by setting a good example.
More often than not, they will do what you do more than what you simply tell them to do. Support can come in a variety of forms. You can start by researching local support groups and associations. Exchanging ideas with peers who have experienced the same challenges can offer your child a new perspective and hope, and introduce them to new opportunities.
Also, try to keep your family dynamics as close to as they were before. Family is the closest support circle your child has. Any disruption and unbalance can create a great deal of stress for every member involved.
While you want to spare your already stressed child from further turmoils, you need to take care of yourself and other family members too.
Caring for your child, taking him for treatments, or merely overhauling your meal plans requires adjusting to new timetables and schedules. Accept any form of assistance you can get, even if it’s just in the form of some useful apps to stay on top of new organizational demands.
If possible, encourage your child to participate in activities they enjoyed before. This will reinforce their belief that, despite their illness, many things in life, like friends, family, and the things they’re passionate about, remain a solid constant.
5. Help them stay engaged in their life
Anger and depression are all a part of the grieving process. When we are angry or depressed, the last thing we want to do is be around people. As human beings, however, we also experience a conflicting desire for contact and communication with others at the same time.
Your teen will want to hide away and isolate themselves from others while they lick their wounds in private.
There is a delicate balance to be struck between giving them space to cope and deal with their new reality. You don’t want to allow them to drift off entirely. This will most likely cause a great deal of conflict and strife, which may be tempting to avoid by leaving them alone to deal with their issues.
As tempting as that may be, however, it is a desire you don’t want to give in to. This is the time when they most need you to be strong for them and not let them drift into the deepest depths of self-pity.
Helping your teen successfully navigate through adolescence can be a challenge on its own. Helping them navigate the grief and loss that comes with the diagnosis of a chronic condition, however, can raise that challenge to a whole new level.
6. Work on a vitamin regime
It is always helpful to teach your children how to take care of themselves. This includes helping them set up a vitamin regime. Kids have no idea what they should be taking without someone telling them. This is your chance to guide them in the right direction on what is good for them.
Wakunaga of America Kyo-Dophilus Kids Probiotic is something that is working for us. Did you know that 70% of your immune system is located in your gut? Many times underlying issues are related to what we eat and put into our bodies. Most of these issues stem from our gut. We don’t even realize it and it is hard for doctors to detect!
Knowing this, as a family we decided to start working on improving the health of our gut. Kyo-Dophilus Kids Probiotic helps kids maintain good bowel regularity, relieves occasional digestive discomfort, and it also promotes healthy immune function. This is really important when trying to help improve your child’s health.
If you have not tried focusing on the gut, now is the time to start! You can get a 60-count bottle of Wakunaga of America Kyo-Dophilus Kids Probiotic for around $16. A 90-count bottle typically retails for $32. They are chewable tablets that make it easy for kids to take plus it tastes like vanilla! Find where you can get yours here! It is available at Sprouts, Vitamin Cottage, Swansons Vitamins and Amazon.
Just remember, you can’t help them navigate something successfully that you are failing to deal with yourself. Helping them deal with pain and fears generally means dealing with your own pain and fear first.
You can’t deal with it until you first acknowledge it even exists. Burying it won’t help; you have to face and manage it. Then, you can help your teen confront and manage their new reality as well.