• Todd Schmenk

When a Child Is Ill

When it comes to a difficult diagnosis, some special considerations should be taken into account when it’s a child who is ill. Adults have a much larger capacity to be able to see or hold in their minds the situation from several points of view and often forget that this is something a child either cannot do (depending on the age) or has only a limited capability to do. It is generally not a good idea to try to hide the facts of the situation from a child, nor is it a good idea to share too much. A careful, thoughtful balance is the goal.

Most important to remember is that, like an adult, the child may experience a loss of control due to the severity of the situation. Unlike an adult, a child will tend to internalize whatever is happening to them as if it is somehow their own fault. It is essential that there be messaging reinforcing that what is happening to them was not something that they caused. Don’t invalidate their feelings by saying something like “Of course this is not your fault, don’t be silly” since this implies that they are not that smart. 


Do your best to keep your child’s life as normal as possible. Continue to meet the schedule set for the child, get to school on time, and keep them involved in extracurricular activities and playtime. If there are siblings, try to keep the interactions similar to how it was before the diagnosis. This is not only useful to the child with the diagnosis, but avoids the siblings’ feeling left out. 

You’ll find many support programs available, often more so than for adults, so be sure to look for and take advantage of support systems already in place such as these:

  • Treatment programs at your local hospital (especially a children’s hospital) 

  • Social organizations, such as the Shriners International 

  • Local support groups

  • Nonprofit organizations such as Make-A-Wish Foundation

  • Faith communities 

  • School systems 

  • Social worker

  • Child psychologist or counselor

Given the severity of the diagnosis, it is also useful to understand what the schools have to offer: 

  • Web-based learning programs

  • In-home tutors

  • Special medical monitoring

  • Access to school counselors and psychologists

  • Check-in times with the school nurse

  • Transportation assistance

  • Individual Educational Plans (IEP) 

IEPs are learning plans that can be drawn up so that all who are involved within the school system are aware of the unique needs of the child and will help to assure that support for the child is addressed and that the child does not fall behind when needing to be out of school for treatment.

These are some of the more important aspects to keep in mind with an ill child. However, many of the concepts and techniques found within this book would be just as applicable to children as they are for adults. As a parent or caretaker, you should also be sure to understand the basis of the information found here to help you deal with the extra stress of being a support person when the hero is a child. 

One of the best things you can do as an adult is to model the behaviors for your child that you know would be most beneficial by being an example and using the knowledge and skills yourself. It is what you do already as a parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, just with a little more focus. 

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© 2015 by Todd Schmenk

1 Richmond Square, 103k, Providence, RI 02906

401-384-0701