Dealing with a sick child is difficult. There are many things to worry about. After a few days, however, she is usually on the way to recovery, and normality is once again restored to your household.
But not all childhood illness follow such a brief and predictable course. Some children develop illnesses, such as cancer, that take a long to respond to treatment. However, a child with long-term ill health has an instinctive desire to get better, and the more emotionally secure she is, then the speedier her physical recovery will be.
A chronically sick child has the same psychological needs as a healthy one. Only that she has additional requirements such as being reassured that she will get well eventually, and the need for appropriate medical treatment and rest. But her basic emotional needs remain the same. Every child thrives best in a family where she feels cared for and at the same time she experiences structure and consistency. Without these qualities, your child will feel insecure.
The way you manage your chronically sick child depends partly on your views on discipline. For instance:
* If you regard discipline simply as a way of controlling her in order to make her conform to your standards, you will probably be less insistent on this matter when she is ill. After all, she is less active when unwell and therefore is less likely to break the rules.
* If you regard exerting discipline as a necessary evil of parenthood, that has to be applied for your child’s sake even though you would prefer to let her do as she pleases, then her ill-health will give you justification for being more lenient.
* If you believe that discipline makes a positive contribution to your child’s development, ill health is unlikely to make you reduce your expectations and general standard of discipline.
Although it is understandable when parents ‘spoil’ their sick child, there are a number of potential dangers in abandoning family discipline in such circumstances. First, it may confirm the child’s worry that something is terribly wrong with her. A sudden change in the rules may increase her unconscious fears that her illness is serious. Second, abandoning discipline may cause relationship difficulties. Within a short time, you have to cope with a chronically sick child who thinks she can do what she wants. Your other children might also be confused about this relaxation of family rules.
Lastly, adjustment from ill health to normality can be difficult.
Certainly, you need to be flexible. There will be occasions when you ‘turn a blind eye’ to her behaviour. You may also need to lot of time with her, to stop her feeling lonely and miserable. But this is quite different from abandoning discipline altogether.
Another way to help your chronically ill child is to establish some routine in her daily activities. To a child confined to bed all day, time can seem to drag. She may begin to focus on negative aspects of life such as worrying about schoolwork.
Make it routine that, if possible, she gets up from bed for meals, that at specific time of the day she reads a book, that she has a bath every evening, and so on.
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