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Updated 23 September 2013

Child's chronic illness can affect entire family

Researchers found that parenting a chronically ill child can cause stress that affects the whole family.

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Parenting a chronically ill child can cause stress that affects the whole family.

That's the finding of researchers who reviewed 96 studies conducted in 12 countries between 1980 and 2012.

The studies included families in which there were children up to the age 21 with asthma, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, epilepsy, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and sickle cell disease.

The demands of care sometimes created greater stress for parents than the severity or length of their child's illness, according to the findings published recently in the Journal of Paediatric Psychology.

Along with their usual parenting duties, parents of chronically ill children have to deal with special situations such as doctor or therapy appointments, medical treatments, hospitalisations and school issues that can overwhelm parents while they try to integrate the ill child's needs into the family routine, the Case Western Reserve University researchers said.

Parents in the studies reported experiencing added stress from watching their child in pain; from worrying about the child's vulnerability and from explaining the health problems to people outside the family.

Study co-author Rebecca Hazen, a psychologist and assistant professor in the paediatrics department, offered some stress reduction tips for parents with chronically ill children:

  • Be open to assistance from friends or family who may be able to help lower some of the stress;
  • Parents should find ways to share parenting and treatment responsibilities to reduce the demands on one parent, and
  • Inform your child's doctor if you think you may need help managing the stress related to caring for a child with a chronic illness.

The study revealed that 15% of US families have a chronically ill child with special needs, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more for parents about coping with chronic illness.

Photo:  Ill child from Shutterstock

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