5 Tips for Caring for a Seriously Ill Child

mother kissing childAll parents hope their children will be happy and healthy as they go through childhood and become adults. Sadly, those hopes (and the belief in the American myth that children aren’t supposed to suffer) are shattered when a serious illness strikes. Watching your child suffer is heartbreaking. It can tap into a smorgasbord of painful emotions, including hopelessness, anger, fear, and incompetence, to name only a few.

Needless to say, caring for your seriously ill child can take a significant toll on you, both physically and emotionally. Taking care of yourself is imperative; your child will be looking to you for strength, comfort, and reassurance. Every smile, every comforting hug, and every look in your eye will not go unnoticed as your child watches you closely.

As a parent – and your sick child’s caregiver – you may feel that you have to be a totally selfless martyr, and completely sacrifice your own wellbeing in the process. Unfortunately, this will backfire, because it can gradually lead to “compassion fatigue.”

Compassion fatigue is essentially the burnout many caregivers develop as they give of themselves, day-in and day-out. If you neglect your own self-care, you can become so mentally, emotionally, and spiritually depleted and exhausted that you lose your ability to feel compassion and provide the loving care your child deserves.

Fortunately, you can prevent this from happening. The following five tips are things you can do to keep your own difficult emotions in check, and lighten your load in the process. By doing so, you’ll have so much more to give when it comes to caring for your sick child.

  1. Enlist the help of others – One of the most important things you can do as a caregiver is to enlist the help of others. This may include other caregivers, family members, friends, members of your church, neighbors – anyone you know well enough to trust to take care of your child. 
    You’ll likely be surprised to find how many people are willing and able to lend a helping hand if you ask. Quite often, others don’t know how to help, or make the assumption that you’ve got everything covered. Don’t be afraid to speak up and let your need for frequent breaks become known! Even if it’s just a couple hours here and there so you can go for a walk, get a relaxing (and much-needed) massage, or have lunch with a friend, you’ll get a chance for some important “me” time – something that caregivers tend to sorely neglect.
    If you’re not comfortable with a friend or family member caring for your child (or if that person isn’t comfortable), you can enlist their help in other ways, as well. They can run some errands or cook a meal for you, for example.
  2. Surround yourself with support – Caregivers need care too, especially in the form of emotional support from others. Because this is your child – your baby – you’ll be flooded with difficult, painful, and at times disturbing, emotions. For example, it’s normal to feel resentment or anger because of the toll this is taking on your life, not to mention your child’s. You may be angry with God, or feel tremendous guilt about wanting your life back. Having people you can discuss your feelings with will help you put them in perspective, while providing you with a healthy sounding board.
    Consider going to a support group for parents of seriously ill children, or for caregivers. Support groups are filled with people who truly understand what you’re going through. Other options for support include working with a therapist, pastor, or other spiritual teacher or guide. You might also consider using a journal to write down your thoughts and feelings for a few minutes each day.
  3. Take good care of your physical self – You’re only human, which means your body needs sufficient rest, good nutrition, hydration, and regular exercise. By making your own health a priority, you’ll have more energy and stamina to care for your child. If you’re tired or sleep-deprived, for example, you’ll be more inclined to make mistakes with medication, get into an accident while driving, or snap at your child.
  4. Educate and prepare yourself – Learn as much as you can about your child’s illness, including his or her prognosis. If your child has a terminal illness, it’s imperative that you acknowledge and accept that fact. That doesn’t mean you have to give up hope; rather, always remember that there’s a delicate balance between having hope and being realistic. Also, oftentimes not knowing can be far worse than knowing.
  5. Stay close to your loved ones – Don’t become so focused on your child’s care that you neglect your relationships with those closest to you. If you’re married, make time for your spouse. Don’t push your loved ones away, or leave them feeling as if they don’t matter because they’re not ill. Keep them in the loop, schedule time with them, and let them be there for you, as well.

Your child loves you and is lucky to have you there to care for him or her. Be aware of any signs of compassion fatigue. That being said, don’t wait for it to appear before you utilize the preventative measures above.

MORE:4 Ways to Enlist the Help of Others }

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5 Tips for Caring for a Seriously Ill Child

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1 comment

  1. Marilyn says:

    I hope mine doesn’t get ill.

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