One day, just before my son’s 4th birthday, he looked up at me and said, “Mama, I am sorry I was so bad today, but my reflux was really bothering me.” That was the first time our son ever let us know that acid reflux was responsible for at least some of his “bad” days.
Our son is not alone in acting out when he does not feel well. Research shows that children with chronic illness exhibit significantly more behavior problems as compared to children without chronic illness.
This is an important fact… children with chronic illnesses tend to have more behavior problems than typically developing children.
But what does bad behavior have to do with caregiver stress?
Floyd and Gallagher (1997) attempted to answer this question when they investigated the relationship between parental stress and care demands. Generally speaking, what they found was that special child care demands faced by the parents of children with chronic illness and disabilities can cause significant stress for parents and significant disruption in family relationships. This stress can happen because of the uniqueness of the health crisis, the parent-child struggles related to medication, and the adaptations many families have to make in response to the chronic illness. One very interesting aspect of their study was their discovery that the presence of significant behavior problems was more important than the type of disability in determining the level of parental stress.
Greenberg and colleagues (1997) also looked at stress and caregiving. Again, these researchers found that behavior problems were more important than the type of the child illness or disability in determining several types of parental stress. In fact, regardless of the disability group in the study, child behavior problems were associated with the highest parent and family problems within the study participants.
Recognizing the documented relationship between childhood chronic illness, behavior problems, and family stress should be extremely important to healthcare providers, caregivers, and support groups. We know that the psychological climate, including levels of stress in the home, can affect the social development of the child with the chronic illness.
So the next time your child’s behavior is making you feel stressed out, just remember: You are not alone