Telling your children you have MS

Telling your children that you have MS can be a challenge. You may be concerned about the impact of the news, have trouble putting what you need to say into words, or wonder how much of the information your children will understand. But there are ways to tell even very young children about MS, and you may be surprised at how well they handle it.

Children can be quite perceptive, and may already have sensed that something is wrong. They are also resilient, and can often deal with tough news. It may actually be a relief for them to find out about your MS because it will provide an explanation for the changes they may have noticed. Knowing the power of a child's imagination, the news that you have MS may not be as bad as whatever they imagined was going on.

Every family is unique, and there is no "best way" to tell your children you have MS. However, there are a few things that can make it easier:

  • Plan ahead. Before talking to your child, write down what you'd like to say. You may even want to practice on a spouse or friend to sort out how you'd like to say it.
  • Set aside a time when you will not be disturbed and sit down with your child in a comfortable place.
  • Explain your condition in a way that is age-appropriate. Teach your child the name of the condition and how to say it, how the condition affects your health, how it might change the family routines (e.g., family friends may help drive them to school), and what the prognosis is.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions about MS. This will help prevent them from worrying unnecessarily. Keep the lines of communication open – make sure your child knows they're welcome to talk to you or ask questions whenever they need to. You can also encourage them to talk to a friend or to a trusted adult.

Check with the MS Society of Canada, the National MS society, your physician, or your MS nurse for more MS resources for children.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-Your-Condition-and-Your-Children

How do kids feel about MS?

Every child is different. But there are a few feelings that children of MS parents often go through.

Fear
Children are often worried about their parent's health, how the family's life will change, and the effects that their parent's MS may have on their own future. Common fears and questions include:

  • Is my parent going to die?
  • Will my parent be in pain?
  • Will my parent be unable to walk?
  • Can I catch MS from my parent?
  • Will I be more likely to get MS because my parent has it?
  • What will happen to my future? Will we have enough money? Will I be able to leave home and go to college or university?

Anger
Another very natural reaction is anger. When they learn that their parent has MS, children may feel that things aren't fair and be angry that their parent is sick. They may also resent the extra work and responsibility that they now have because of their parent's illness. They may also be angry when their family's focus has turned from them to the parent with MS.

Sadness
Children are often sad to see their parent upset, in pain, or having trouble with their normal activities. They may feel sad that they cannot make the disease go away. They may also feel neglected because the parent with MS may not be able to spend as much time with them.

Embarrassment
Parents with MS may need a wheelchair, scooter, or cane to get around. They may be tired or unable to participate in the child's activities when other parents can. The physical symptoms of MS, such as poor coordination and slurred speech, may be mistaken for drunkenness by passers-by. Strangers may stare or ask inappropriate questions. All of these things can be upsetting or embarrassing to children.

Guilt
Children of MS parents may feel guilty about a number of things, including their own good health. They may also feel guilty about causing stress for their sick parent, resenting their parent's MS, being embarrassed by their parent's MS, wanting time for themselves and their interests, and leaving their parent behind when they start their own adult life away from home.

This is not a complete list of all feelings that children may have when their parent has MS. And not all children may have all of these feelings. But these feelings are often a normal part of dealing with a parent's MS.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-Your-Condition-and-Your-Children

Making it work

It's important for parents and children to work together and set up a "new normal" for the family. Here are a few things you can do as a parent to help your children deal with your condition.

Help them learn more about MS
Give your children age-appropriate information about MS. Tell them what the condition is, what the symptoms are like, how it may affect the family's life, and what the prognosis is. Check with the MS Society of Canada or the National MS Society for more information and learning materials for children.

Let kids be kids
Your children may be pitching in to help by taking on extra chores and responsibilities. It's great to have the extra help, and it often makes the children feel better to be helping. But make sure that they still have time to just be kids. Give them the space they need to spend time with friends and get involved in their own activities. This can help reduce stress and let them enjoy life.

Communication is key
Keep the lines of communication open with your children. If they have questions, do your best to answer them honestly and completely. Use books, brochures, or pictures to help. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so. You and your child can work together to find out the answer.

Get help if you need it
Use technologies such as cellphones to stay in contact with your kids. This can actually be a way to give them more space – instead of staying around the house in case you need them, they can go out with friends and still be just a call or text away. Consider hiring someone to take care of some of your chores or errands, or having things delivered rather than going out to get them. Draw on your friends, relatives, or local MS society chapter for support. If you're concerned about how your family is doing and not sure where to turn, consider family counseling. Your local MS chapter or Employee Assistance Program may be able to help get you in touch with a counselor.

Overall, it's important to reassure your kids that even though things may be different now, you are the same person and will always be their parent.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-Your-Condition-and-Your-Children

On the bright side

Parents with MS often worry about what their condition will do to their children. It's true that a parent's MS can cause children a great deal of worry and stress. However, it can also give kids valuable skills and experience and help bring the family together.

Having a parent with MS means that kids may take on more responsibility than other children their age. They often help out with cooking, cleaning, shopping, and organizing the day-to-day operations of the household. These are skills that children will be able to use throughout their lives. Being responsible for important errands and tasks can make kids feel more important and trusted. Helping to keep the household running can also give your kids more confidence, independence, responsibility, and maturity. Helping a parent live better with MS may make children more compassionate towards those with special needs.

The shared challenge of MS can help pull a family together. Parents and children can work side by side to keep things going and find new ways to enjoy life. Having open, honest communication with your children about MS also means that they may feel more comfortable talking to you about whatever is on their minds. All of these things can make your family stronger.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-Your-Condition-and-Your-Children