I can only imagine how difficult it is for parents as they care for a child with chronic illness. The constant trips to and from the hospital; 24/7 care at home; not to mention the financial stress of the situation are unfathomable to me at such a young age. Yet amongst all this chaos, have you ever considered how your children are coping with this chronic illness? Not just the child who is being carted around from doctor to psychologist and then to the naturopath, but also their siblings? The truth is chronic illness does not just affect the person diagnosed; it also impacts the immediate family in every way possible.
Working at a school, I have had a glimpse of the challenges that many parents go through daily as they attempt to care for their child, get them to school, work a full time job and then make it back by home time. In short, life is difficult enough for the average parent without the added pressure of a chronic illness. Whether this illness comes as debilitating anxiety, depression, cancer, Chronic Fatigue, Lime Disease or some unknown bacteria that is as of yet unidentified, it becomes well known to every member of the family.
It is possible to try and shield your children from the illness that their sibling is undergoing; however the fact that they will have to attend school while their brother or sister gets to ‘lie on the couch and watch TV all day’ will eventually cause them to ask questions. As a child who had a sibling with chronic illness all through high school, I have been able to see what was beneficial for me and what I needed in order to cope with this strange condition that debilitated my sister 24 hours a day.
If you have a child who is currently going through chronic illness, here are 5 tips on how to approach this topic with their siblings:
1. Be honest
Children and teenagers will pick up if something is wrong in their household, particularly if it involves a sibling who is now being doted over by their parents. Tell them what is wrong, give them the details of the illness (as best suited to their age and maturity) and tell them if it can be cured.
2. Allow them to help
Let’s face it, your children may not be able to do much to help their ill brother or sister, but this doesn’t mean they can’t try. By allowing your children to ‘help’ by drawing a picture, cooking, cleaning up or even feeding their sibling they will feel useful.
3. Don’t compare them to their siblings
If your child is anything like me, they will quickly realise how unfair it is that they HAVE to do everything that their sibling is unable to do. Whether this be attend school or do chores it will seem unjust that they have to carry more of the weight. Explain to them why your expectations of them are different from their brother or sister, and show them that they have many privileges that their sibling is unable to partake in.
4. Validate your child
Your child will probably become envious of the attention their brother or sister is getting. They will long for that time with their parents as well as some of the ‘privileges’ their sibling receives. Let your child know that it is ok to feel this way and listen to them. Explore how you can best show your healthy children how valued they are and try to spend time with them.
5. Be patient
Just as you are learning to be patient with your child and the fact that they are experiencing an illness you have little or no control over, the rest of your family will also have to learn this patience with each other. This period will challenge you and your family, but draw together and consistently show your appreciation and love for one another to strengthen your family unit. By doing this, you will not just be supporting your ill child, but also their siblings.