Explaining Arthritis to Your Kids
Obviously, any tips or advice you are given about how to explain arthritis to your kids must be filtered through what you think is the best way to approach it. It's also dependent on the kids being old enough to learn about arthritis. Are your children old enough and mature enough to understand the human body?
If a parent has arthritis, kids are going to have questions even if they aren't old enough to articulate the questions. You, as a parent, are so in tune with your children you can likely read the expressions on their faces and know what they are thinking or what is troubling them.
Besides the age of the child (or adolescent), you should consider how afraid your child is with regard to what they observe. If your child was eight years old when you were diagnosed but they are ten years old now, your child is likely to notice some changes in you. Your child may wonder and wish they could ask:
Why are you tired all of the time?
Why don't you smile and laugh as much as you did before?
Why are you in so much pain?
Why do you walk funny?
Why are you stiff after sitting through a movie?
Why don't you walk the dog anymore?
Whatever your children considered normal, if it has changed, they have noticed, and may not know how to ask about it. Don't let that mislead you into thinking everything is fine with them. Just because they are not asking, doesn't mean they aren't worried and concerned.
It is often said that children absorb like a sponge. This is no different. All they know for sure is you, as their parent, are acting differently. It's difficult to allay their fears and explain in terms they would understand. Though it's difficult, you have to try to build understanding with your kids, even if it's not verbal understanding.
Start a Conversation
Try to engage your child in conversation so you can find out what they want to know about arthritis and encourage them to ask questions. Ask your children about arthritis to see how much they do or don't understand. Ask if they feel afraid because you have arthritis. It's important to confront their fears or other emotions. Ask if they want to go to the doctor with you and what activities they want to do with you for the next few weeks. (If they choose something you can no longer do, explain why you can no longer do it.). Decide together on a substitution for the activity you couldn't do. Let your child have input when choosing the alternate activity.
If your child is old enough to understand, encourage ongoing questions. You may have to explain something more than once. You must also “interview” them periodically so you can draw out of them what they know, what they feel, and what they are missing from you. It is vitally important to keep the conversation going. Even when you do that, don't expect your kids to fully understand at first. It will take time for them to grasp everything that's happening to their parent who is living with arthritis.
Comforting Children Not Able to Talk about It
I think you will agree that a conversation with a three-year-old about the pain of arthritis would be pretty much a one-sided conversation. You can't talk about arthritis until your child is at an age where they can comprehend concepts such as pain, fatigue, and sadness. You will need to explain in a way that doesn't scare your children.
It's important to comfort children. Do more of the things you still can do with your children and make it a priority to create great memories. Your young children will also learn from observing you. Your moods are reflected onto your children. They need to know everything is under control.
You may even choose to explain that arthritis is not only a disease of older people. It may help your children to meet with children who have arthritis so that they can relate to their peers. Contact your local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation to see if there is a support group for children with arthritis near you or if they can put you in contact with another family. Your children may begin to understand your arthritis better when they see it in someone their own age.