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Contemporary Parenting Questions


Last updated on 12/23/08

How can I help my child cope with a serious illness?

When a child is diagnosed with a serious or debilitating illness, the family’s entire world is turned upside down. Time is filled up with doctor and clinic visits, tests and more tests, treatments and more treatments. A sick child may have many questions about the disease, treatments, and questions about death and dying. It is important to address these concerns as they can lead to unnecessary death and discomfort. In many hospitals, child life specialists are employed to help children deal with serious illnesses. Find out if your hospital has a child life specialist on staff and make its services available to you and your child.

Although it is easy to get caught up in the world of hospitals and medicine, it is important to give attention to the sick child’s siblings. It is estimated that between 14 million and 16 million families live with a child who has a chronic illness, yet there is little available to help with the many emotional issues that surround them. The brothers and sisters of seriously ill children watch silently from the sidelines with little assistance from the world. However, they live lives emotionally way beyond the expectations of normal family existence. Talk to your children truthfully about the situation; it is much easier for children to deal with a problem if they know what the problem is. Inform your children’s teachers about the situation at home; teachers cannot see what is happening in your child’s life if you do not tell them.

In the Jewish Community

Unfortunately, many Jewish children are seriously ill. Although there are strong support systems available to help families in the Jewish community cope with serious illness, some people choose to keep the illness a secret and do not avail themselves to these services. Those who keep serious illness a secret usually do so for the benefit of the child. It gives privacy from unwanted attention and will free them from the stigma of having had a serious illness when they look for a marriage partner. Keeping illness a secret, however, can have serious repercussions. It is hard to bear the strain and agony of illness alone. Without the proper support system, parents may not be able to care for the sick child or the well children properly. Additionally, people cannot read minds. If parents or children act strangely due to the stress of an illness, it will be regarded as improper behavior to those who are not aware of the family situation.

Use the following links to educate yourself about coping with serious illness. Learn how to explain medical terms to your child and find resources to aid your family in its time of distress.

Frequently Asked Links

How can I explain long-term illness to my child?

How can I cope with my child’s serious illness?

How do teens deal with chronic illness?

What can kids do to cope with serious illness?

What is it like to stay in the hospital?

How can I prepare my child emotionally for surgery?

What are some of the kinds of cancer that kids can get?

What is chemotherapy?

How should I speak to my child about death? more more

How can I help my children grieve?

By Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Why do people have to suffer?

By Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky

Why does sibling rivalry sometimes increase when a child is ill?

Where can siblings of sick children find support?

How can siblings of seriously ill children get their wishes granted?

Related Articles

Managing Home Health Care
When kids need intensive health care after they are discharged from the hospital, it is important that family and caregivers learn about the devices, equipment, and support they will need.

When Your Baby Is Born With a Health Problem
If you are expecting a baby, it is important to understand that certain health problems and complications cannot be prevented, no matter how smoothly the pregnancy goes.

Preparing Your Child for Visits to the Doctor

When kids anticipate "going to the doctor," many become worried and apprehensive about the visit. Here is how to help them.


Medical Support for the Jewish Community

Compiled by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Chai Lifeline

Resources for seriously ill children and their families.

Rofeh Cholim Cancer Society

Resources and financial assistance for families dealing with cancer.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)
AACAP offers up-to-date information on child and adolescent development and issues.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
This website contains all the information you need to understand your health care.

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
This organization offers information about the illness, public policy, clinical trials and local chapters.

Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation
Candlelighters provides support and information for children and teens with cancer.

Children's Brain Tumor Foundation (CBTF)
The CBTF funds research on pediatric brain tumors and provides resources, newsletters, and a support group for parents.

CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation (NCCF)
The NCCF supports and sponsors research and treatment for childhood cancers.

OncoLink provides patients and professionals with cancer information, support, and resources.

American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society is the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy, and service. Call:(800) ACS-2345

Complementary/Integrative Medicine Education Resources (CIMER)
The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center's Web site offers inforamtion about alternative and complementary therapies used for cancer prevention and control.

Cancervive is dedicated to improving the quality of life for cancer survivors. Contact this group at: Cancervive 11636 Chayote St. Los Angeles, CA 90049 (800) 4-TO-CURE

Ronald McDonald House Charities
Ronald McDonald House Charities provides comfort and care to families with children in the hospital.

Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer
A unique foundation that evolved from a young cancer patient's front-yard lemonade stand to a nationwide fundraising movement to find a cure for pediatric cancer.

The Big Fun Box
The Big Fun Box Foundation was started by a family who learned how to entertain themselves during frequent long hospital stays. They developed this box of toys and other fun stuff as a way to give pediatric patients comfort and fun while in the midst of stressful situations.

Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation
The Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation is a nonprofit organization that offers entertainment, education, social networking, and other activities for seriously ill children and their families.

Make A Wish

Make A Wish grants the wishes of seriously ill children.

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