Making Friends on the Playground

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Making Friends on the Playground

Chronic illness can make “normal” a little more difficult for kids

If your child has been diagnosed with a chronic condition such as asthma, diabetes or a blood disorder, it’s important to help her cope emotionally as well as physically. Chronically ill children must deal with special challenges — and take extra steps to protect their health — that their peers won’t recognize or understand.

A child’s understanding of — and coping strategies for — her illness vary depending on her age. Infants and toddlers need to feel safe and soothed, particularly during visits to the doctor or hospitalizations. Preschoolers may see the illness as an issue of control, so the key is to offer perceived, or limited, management choices, such as whether your child wants to take her medication with the red or green spoon.

School-age children are learning that they can be masters of their environment, which may also cause them to believe they are sick because they hit someone or spilled a glass of milk. Emphasize that the illness is not your child’s fault, and explain that actions like skipping medications, not spilling milk, affect her health. Involve your child in the management of her illness, such as tracking triggers for asthma attacks, planning healthy menus or getting regular, fun exercise. Resist the temptation to be overprotective as she participates in normal activities. Even Olympic athletes prevent asthma and diabetes from interfering with their athletic careers.

During the teen years, kids may assert independence by denying that they have an illness. After years of special care, they may suddenly stop taking precautions. They may feel self-conscious about having a chronic condition.

Explain that trying to hide her condition from her peers may make the situation worse by triggering medical complications. Often, kids who are straightforward about having a disease are pleasantly surprised by the support and understanding they receive from their peers.

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