What Happens if My Child Gets Sick? 5 Ways Chronic Illness Impacts Children 

When your child is diagnosed with a major medical problem, specifically a chronic illness, it can affect everyone in the family. An illness must last at least three months (but can be lifelong) to be considered chronic. Bleeding disorders, diabetes, heart disease, cystic fibrosis, and fetal alcohol syndrome are only a few of the many chronic conditions children can be diagnosed with that impact their physical and mental well-being.

Coping with the emotional toll of the diagnosis, adjusting to a new schedule full of doctor and therapy appointments, and managing symptoms is a lot to handle for anyone, much less a child. While every child reacts differently to medical problems, and some might not even be aware that anything about their health has changed, supporting them in the best way possible is still crucial. Part of this support includes maintaining a solid knowledge of your child’s diagnosis and the effect it could have on them. Here are five ways chronic illnesses impact children.

5 Ways Chronic Illnesses Impact Children

Mental and Behavioral Health

Chronic illnesses introduce psychological challenges and physical ones for children. Not only are they more at risk for anxiety, depression, or adjustment disorders, but they are also more likely to have behavioral problems. These problems can emerge in two ways:

Because younger kids don’t have the life experience or cognitive ability of an adult, they can’t verbalize their physical or emotional pain as fluently as parents or older siblings. If this pain rises to the level of medical trauma, the “experience of traumatic stress as a result of the medical system, which may include procedures (i.e., surgeries), new diagnoses (i.e., cancer), and professionals in healthcare settings,” mental or behavioral health problems can become even more severe.

Developmental Differences

If a child is diagnosed at a young age and continues to be sick throughout their adolescence and young adult years, it can change their developmental trajectory. Whether they fail to meet essential milestones like walking, talking, or other skills, or they aren’t on target for psychosocial development, having a chronic illness can make meeting these milestones difficult. Some research shows that using steroids, which are part of most treatment plans for inflammatory or autoimmune conditions, for long periods can cause stunted growth. Neurocognitive developmental delays are also possible, impacting the child’s ability to retain and process information, regulate their mood, and sustain focus.

Frequent Visits to Doctors and Hospitals

A new chronic diagnosis means more frequent visits to doctors and hospitals, causing additional stress on the child patient and their families. Balancing this is nothing short of a challenge, requiring some families to completely uproot their lives to be near the medical centers so their children can get the best treatment possible. Some healthcare facilities even offer hospital-based schooling or other resources to reduce the child’s risk of falling behind because of illness.

Social Limitations

Missing school, extracurricular activities, and other social events are things children with chronic illnesses and their families are all too familiar with. A sense of belonging helps kids build trust and feel valued within their identity, so many chronically ill children may struggle with this. Unfortunately, kids with disabilities or chronic conditions are also often the victims of in-person bullying or cyberbullying, further limiting their social capacity.

Identity Conflict

In addition to physical, psychological, and social challenges, older kids with chronic illnesses sometimes struggle with their identity – a conflict between who they were before and after being diagnosed. The transition from a healthy existence to one complicated by medical challenges brings on a sense of loss and uncertainty during adolescence, which is typically a time in life when older kids and teens experience a lot of self-discovery.

Managing Childhood Chronic Illnesses

If your child has been recently diagnosed with a chronic illness, we know how stressful it can be. Managing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or even childhood cancer isn’t easy for the patient and their families, so having a solid support team in your corner is essential. At Balance Psychiatric Services, we can be a part of helping you achieve a more balanced and holistic approach to medication management that aligns with your child’s treatment plan. We also work closely with mental health therapists and other healthcare professionals to ensure the best collaborative care possible. Contact us today to learn more about our services.