Emma Hide knows the challenges of chronic illness first hand and believes there are some steps that can help you help your child
Chronic illnesses (or long-term health conditions) present a range of symptoms and have varying impacts on everyday life. Examples include, but are not limited to, chronic fatigue, diabetes, asthma, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, and anxiety.
If you’re reading this article, you may have experienced some of the practical, emotional and spiritual challenges that come with managing chronic conditions. As a parent, you’ll understand the difficulty and heartache of watching your child grapple with physical and mental hurdles.
This article offers seven ways to guide and support your child through chronic illness while looking after your own well-being, drawing from my own family’s experience with fatigue and pain (read more about our journey here).
1. Encourage your child to express their emotions and fears
Chronic illness can emotionally impact children, causing fear, a sense of loss, and missed opportunities. If bottled up, emotions can explode unexpectedly and even contribute to physical symptoms.
To help your child cope, create a safe space for them to share their honest feelings and fears with you (when they feel ready). Try your best to listen well, resisting the urge to go into ‘fix it’ mode by offering solutions. You could also encourage them to journal their feelings. Naming an issue or emotion in this way has been shown to activate the prefrontal cortex in the brain, leading to decreased emotional intensity.
While naming emotions clearly won’t solve everything, it can help your child to feel less alone and reduce their emotional burden. It also provides a springboard from which to direct practical action, for example by finding ways to tackle loneliness or boredom.
2. Patiently point your child towards the hope they have in Christ
Experiencing regular pain or fatigue can be overwhelming, making it difficult to envision an enjoyable future. As Christians, we’re privileged to personally know Jesus and to access the comfort, power, and promises of our Father God both now and in the future.
While recognising your child’s real challenges, guide them towards God’s love, truth, and hope. If your child expresses fear, share Bible verses such as Ephesians 2:10 that speak life to their future. Encourage daily immersion in God’s perfect love, which dispels fear (John 4:18), through stories like that of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
Be patient, as it may take time for your child to reconcile their situation with God’s hope and love. There may be days where your child isn’t in a place to receive such encouragement, and simply needs you to be with them. Remember that God is faithful and uses every experience, even the toughest ones, for the good of those He loves.
3. Help them manage limits
Every person has daily activity limits. Chronic illness may influence this. Part of managing a health condition is working out the appropriate activity level at a given point in time (which may fluctuate day to day, week to week, or even month to month).
As a parent, empower your child to communicate their limits (if they’re old enough to). For instance, at a party, establish a code word for them to signal if they need to leave early. Trust your child to voice their limits and avoid frequent check-ins, allowing them to enjoy the moment.
Discuss strategies for those days that may be more challenging, such as creating a quiet space for rest.
4. Plan bite-sized fun activities to look forward to!
Illness can lead to your child to feel left out of fun activities, with fewer things to look forward to. Try to find manageable ways for your child to socialise, exercise, and enjoy themselves.
For instance, if long social events are challenging, you could plan a brief outing with friends for ice cream. If they miss sports, organise a game in your garden or a nearby green space, such as garden bowling (with old bottles) or shooting hoops. If your child has a favourite restaurant but can’t manage an outing, you could recreate a meal! These activities can greatly benefit your child’s mental well-being.
5. Consider professional support
If your child is struggling to cope mentally or emotionally, consider seeking additional support. This can come in various forms, paid or unpaid.
Professional therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or counselling, is worth seriously considering to help your child process emotions and improve their future. These can sometimes be accessed for free through your local GP or from a private provider, like a Christian counsellor.
Support groups offer opportunities for your child to connect with people facing similar challenges. Be cautious, though, as some groups may not be beneficial for everyone. Alternatively, you could arrange for them to meet or pray with another like-minded individual.
For certain chronic illnesses such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, or anxiety, treatments that aim to minimise or eliminate symptoms may be an option.
Some Christian parents may be comfortable with approaches like reprogramming neurobiology (e.g. The Lightning Process) or addressing underlying emotional factors (e.g. Reverse Therapy or Mickel Therapy). You will need to do your own research and try to be led by whether your child feels ready to try such treatments.
6. Look after yourself in the process
Watching your child face physical and emotional challenges can be incredibly tough for a parent. Illness affects not only the individual but also their support network, both practically and emotionally. Remember to care for yourself.
This might mean taking time for yourself, whether it’s spending time with friends, attending an exercise class, having a peaceful morning or spending quality time with God. You know what helps you relax.
Consider building a support network for yourself, perhaps meeting friends for prayer, asking extended family and friends for childcare assistance, or even seeking professional support if needed. Don’t hesitate to seek help in any form you need; your health and well-being are essential too.
7. Surrender the situation through prayer
When working through all these areas, turn to your loving Father in prayer. God tells us to lay down our burdens, worries, fears and anxieties before Him, trusting in His love, truth and guidance. He longs to walk with us through our challenges and to lead us into victory. God is the one who has the power to make a difference and bring each of us closer to the life He has for us.
Support your child in their prayer life by asking if they’d like to pray together, addressing their specific prayer requests, whether for healing (be guided by them on this) or other aspects of their life. By praying together you can help your child lay down their burdens at the feet of the Lord.
In your personal prayer time, intercede for your child and your family as you journey together. Surrender the situation to Him, remembering that as a parent you are there to love your child, not to fix everything. God loves you and your child unconditionally, and He sees your family’s struggles. As a loving Father He longs to give you and your child the grace, strength and comfort you need in challenging times. God is with you every step of the way.