Tips for Talking to Kids About Rheumatoid Arthritis
Talking to children about rheumatoid arthritis is very difficult because you don’t want to scare them, but at the same time, it impacts their life nearly every day and we also need to be honest. They are going to have questions so let them speak freely. Sometimes what they have to say will surprise you.
Generally speaking, children are very empathetic and understanding, especially if they feel safe and secure with you. Being a mom to 3 children growing more into their little personalities every single day, I know it isn’t easy. But I’ve learned a few things along the way. So today I offer to you my 5 tips for talking to kids about rheumatoid arthritis.
5 tips for talking to kids about rheumatoid arthritis
1. Ask them what they know (or think they know) about it already
You might be surprised by what your children know (or think they know) about your rheumatoid arthritis. Some children may know a great deal about it while others will have no clue at all that you have it. My middle child (7) is very curious and knows all about it. She asks questions and we have many discussions about it. While my youngest (5) pretty much has no idea, care, or concern, that it is even a thing. She accepts my RA, “limitations” and all, simply as part of who I am. And because I’m her mother, she loves them about me anyway. They might not even process RA as an actual “thing” even worth having questions about.
So often, it comes down to who your children are as individuals.
2. Allow them plenty of time to think about what you’ve told them
Speaking with children about rheumatoid arthritis is certainly not a solitary discussion. If done correctly, talking with our children should spill over into days, weeks, and even years. It takes them a long time to sort through their feelings and give a name and voice to what is going on in their head. Give them the space and time they need to do that. Don’t expect them to be overly forthcoming from the get-go. They (like all of us) need time to process the information and figure out how they feel about it.
Often it is a good idea to use analogies of things that they already understand to help explain how rheumatoid arthritis works. The Spoon Theory is a popular and easy to understand one. But you might want to develop your own using something that your child enjoys and understands. Perhaps they play video games and a character only has so many “lives.” Or they like sports and certain activities are worth more points. Either way, children can relate to and understand things that are tangible or things that they have already experienced in the world.
3. Make sure they feel free to ask questions
Allowing children to ask all types of questions about rheumatoid arthritis and the freedom to explore how it impacts them is key to fostering a great relationship with your child. Let them know that no questions with hurt your feelings or offend you. Children have a natural curiosity and, chances are, they don’t have the world perspective that we have to taint or tarnish their questions and thoughts. Asking questions and trusting your answers is how they make sense of their world.
4. Allow them to have a childhood
All too often these days, we ask our children to take on many adult roles and responsibilities. But if you are a parent with rheumatoid arthritis, it is still your job (and also mine) to decide to what extent we want to shelter our children. For example, when my children ask about what the future will be like with my RA, I don’t give them the worst-case scenario, even if that is likely the case. That is not a burden that they need to carry at their age. Yes, I believe in honesty and transparency with them. But it has to be within a balance of their childhood. I will never let RA rob my children of the childhood they deserve.
5. Assure them that they are loved, no matter what
No matter what, when it comes down to it, children need to feel safe, secure and loved. No matter how you choose to speak with your child about your RA, do so with kindness and love and you can’t go wrong. You know your child better than anyone else on this planet. Take the time to allow for ongoing conversations and they will know they are loved, no matter what.
Quiz: Which is NOT a common risk factor for osteoporosis?