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Navigating the Emotional Challenges of COVID-19 While Caring for Kids with Chronic Illness

April 17, 2020

By Christopher Lynch, Ph.D. Psychologist and Director of Pediatric Behavioral Medicine 

Families that have children living with chronic illness face additional challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are challenging times for children and families. Helping kids with their fears, adjusting to new routines, maintaining progress at school, and coping with the confines of quarantine are just the top of the list as we address COVID-19 in our communities.

Families that have children living with chronic illness face additional challenges that arise from their children’s medical conditions.

In my role as Director of Pediatric Behavioral Medicine, I work alongside many of our pediatric specialty clinics to help parents navigate what can take an emotional toll in normal times.

Themes of concern have emerged among many of our families facing COVID currently. It’s helpful to break them down, as well as provide constructive ways for parents and caregivers to recognize and address these challenges.  

Challenge #1: Dealing with the fear and anxiety over potentially having an “underlying condition”.

Parents and caregivers of children with chronic illness naturally have concerns over the possibility that their children’s illness (or treatment of it) places them in a higher risk group. These fears can lead family members to take extraordinary measures to avoid even a remote possibility of contracting the virus. For those parents who cannot avoid public settings due to work or other responsibilities, concerns over bringing the virus home to a potentially high-risk child can lead to guilt and additional fears.

Meeting the Challenge:

Don’t allow your fear and anxiety to fester. If you haven’t already done so, ask your medical professionals if there are any additional risks associated with your child’s illness. If there are, work with them to understand what can be done to mitigate that risk. Your health care professionals know your child’s medical needs best and can be relied upon to provide accurate information. More likely than not, the advice you get will be reassuring. Avoid social media advice on this topic.

Challenge #2: The challenges of caring for someone with a chronic illness during a pandemic.

Care for a child with chronic illness is complicated even in the best of circumstances. Multiple doctor’s visits, special procedures, medications, hospitalizations, and strict dietary regimens are often par for the course in caring for a chronically ill child. The current pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives and this can make providing care even more complicated and frustrating.

Meeting the Challenge

The medical community has adapted quickly to ensure that your child gets the best care possible – even under these circumstances. Virtual visits, prescription delivery, accommodating scheduling needs, and ensuring that necessary in-person services are delivered in a safe environment are just some of the ways that your health care providers can ensure that your child’s care during this time goes as smoothly as possible. Explore these options and don’t hesitate to inquire about any special accommodations – it shows your care team that you are taking this situation seriously too!  

Challenge #3: The impact of stress on chronic illness symptoms.

There are multiple linkages between the mind and body and these connections often impact on chronic illness symptoms. Stress and anxiety over the current pandemic can worsen symptoms across a wide range of chronic illnesses. In addition, stress can affect habits such as diet and sleep and this can have an additional negative effect on health.

Meeting the Challenge

Be sure to address any concerns that your children may have about the virus. Answer questions honestly but provide information at a level that your child can process. My colleague, Dr. Mary Ann LoFrumento, recently published age-specific guidance on conversations with your kids.

This is also a good time to learn and use relaxation strategies. Deep breathing, meditation, use of imagery, and practicing yoga are just some of the activities you can explore. Learn More >

Behavioral health professionals have quickly adapted to the current circumstance with most now providing services virtually. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a behavioral health provider if you have any concerns.