My mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about a month ago, and we didn’t think it was the best time to tell the children, as we were in a state of shock and also concerned what the future might hold. Having read up on the condition, and with the doctor’s reassurance, we were looking at it in a positive light and had come to terms about dealing with it.
Living with Parkinson’s is not easy for the affected as well as family members and even young children. Children are sensitive and sense when something is “not right”.
TIP: Be honest with them as they are smart and want to know what is wrong with their loved ones – especially if it is their parent or grandparent.
Later, we sat down with the kids and told them that this disease affects the brain. They had plenty of questions and weren’t too satisfied with all the answers. To make the situation light, I added, “The well-known boxer Mohammad Ali has Parkinson’s, too, and so does the actor Michael. J .Fox.”
It is sometimes difficult to explain to young children about a chronic illness of a loved one; this also depends on the children’s ages. It becomes even more difficult if it is the child’s parent — mom or dad.
Here are 10 tips for helping children cope with illness in the family
1. Talk to them about the illness, including the symptoms so that they are not afraid. If you do not give them complete information, they tend to misinterpret anything they overhear out of curiosity. And do it before they find out about the illness from a neighbor or a classmate; otherwise, it can destroy their trust. Parents have the inbuilt instinct of protecting their children and, hence, may hide the illness. As a result, the kids may feel shut out/isolated. Children need to be taught to be able to face challenges, whatever form they may be in.
2. You may need to talk to your children separately if you have more than one. Keeping in mind their ages and their nature and the way you present them with the information, they may react differently.
3. Answer kids’ basic questions. Most children want to know if the disease is fatal, contagious, and if they might contract it. Older children might want to know how the loved one got the disease, and if it is hereditary. It’s also essential to reassure your children that it is not their fault.
4. Be prepared to answer some of their sensitive questions. You can pacify kids, encourage them to think positively, but also remind them that it is natural to be upset sometimes, to vent out their feelings of grief, anxiety and uncertainty.
5. You may want to schedule an appointment with the loved one’s doctor/specialist so that the kids can better understand the disease, what to expect during treatment, and to ask whatever questions the children may. You can even encourage them to talk to other supportive family members, so they are at ease.
6. It’s vital to warn younger children that even though the pills the afflicted family member takes may be brightly colored, they are not sweets and that they should never, ever think of taking one as it could make them very sick.
7. Parents will need to prepare the children for the changes in daily living, as the treatment or the disease progresses. And remind them that working as a team will see the family through; that together they will win the war. If your family is one of faith, often this, too, is a source of unity and strength.
8. It is important to reassure the children they will be cared for no matter what happens. Children depend on their parents for emotional and physical needs — young children even more. So, hard as it may be, if it is a parent with a serious illness, the parents need to make arrangements so that their children’s life goes on as usual. Parents may need to call in relatives or loved ones who can stay with during periods of active treatment, a friend or neighbor who can volunteer to cook, transport the kids to and from school and extracurricular activities. Parents can ask older children can help out with some of these things while being careful to respect their space and not over-burden them.
9. It helps to hold weekly meetings to discuss problems that the children may be facing and what changes need to be made. Young children may need to be assured again and again that they will always be loved; even though, at times, the illness may cause irritability and exhaustion, etc.
10. Young children may be unable to talk about their feelings, but a change in behavior will tell it all. If children show signs of depression, loss of concentration, irritability, mood swings, poor grades for an extended period … consult a health care professional to determine if therapy is necessary.