Children comprise as many as 100, 000 of the cases of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in the United States with 25 percent of all cases of IBD diagnosed in childhood. While IBD can be hard for an adult to deal with, negotiating a chronic illness as a child may be even harder. These are a few tips that can help your child deal with their illness, and some insight on how to spot when they need additional help.
Talking with friends
How and when to explain a chronic illness to a friend can be a tough call for a child. Many would prefer not to be singled out because of an illness — especially in a school setting. While teachers, school nurses, and immediate family members may need to know, it is important to follow your child’s lead when it comes to sharing the information with friends.
When it comes time to talk to friends, keep it age appropriate. For younger kids, it may be as simple as having your child explain that they have an illness that can make them feel sick to their stomach but it’s not contagious. Older kids may benefit from providing their friends with a list of resources so they can learn more about IBD. For close friends, it can be beneficial to explain how IBD affects their life and what that means for their friends. For example, explaining that there may be times when they can’t participate in activities because their IBD is making them feel poorly can help friends understand why you miss events.
Sometimes when we deal with a chronic illness it can seem easier to isolate ourselves from others. At other times, we may become isolated due to the nature of the illness, inability to participate, and even social stigma or bullying. But, it is very important to ensure that your child is not being isolated due to their IBD. Support is key in coping with a chronic illness. Encouraging your child to participate in social activities while they are well can help prevent this from happening. Church, organized sports, music lessons, or other group activities can help your child feel less isolated and will establish a good social support system.
When your child is in the hospital it is still important to allow them to maintain contact with friends — even if it simply means connecting over FaceTime or Skype. Be sure to check out local support groups to allow your child to develop friendships with kids who are also going through what they are dealing with.
Signs your child needs extra help
Sometimes children can use some additional support to cope with a chronic illness. Speak with your physician if your child exhibit signs of being depressed, such as crying more frequently, losing interest in things they once loved, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, or anything else that concerns you. Your child’s physician may decide to refer your child to a therapist to learn skills that can help them cope with a chronic illness. In some cases, it may also be prudent to evaluate whether your child has depression and treat it as appropriate.
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Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.