Explaining Rheumatoid Arthritis to Your Kids

Offer reassurance first and the rest will follow. Read on for age-appropriate ways to broach the subject of RA with your kids.

Stacey Feintuch
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Elementary school

What to say: Kids this age may worry that it’s their fault you’re sick. Reassure them by saying something like, “Mommy doesn’t know how she got RA, but it wasn’t because of you.” Help your children understand that, while your RA symptoms may affect your physical abilities, you can still do things together. You might say, “We can’t play catch, because my shoulders will get sore. But we can collect baseball memorabilia together.” If a flare makes it impossible to attend a special event, explain why. You can say something like, “I’m sorry I can’t go to your play. I don’t feel well today.” Suggest ways you can make it up to them; perhaps you can watch a video of the performance together or get tickets to a local theater production.

How they can help: Ask your child to brainstorm about what the two of you can do together when you are low on energy. Maybe they’ll just want to sing songs or read a book together or have you watch them do a dance routine in the living room. If you need to stop playing outside with them so you can rest, ask that they be understanding. Head off disappointment by offering an alternative, such as, “I’m going to rest on the sofa until I get my energy back. Let’s make some popcorn and watch whatever DVD you want.”

Middle school and high school

What to say: One way to start the conversation is to simply ask what they know about rheumatoid arthritis. Often, they’ll think RA affects only the elderly. Tell them, “Adults can get RA. It’s not just for old people.” Explain that RA isn’t fatal and won’t change your relationship with them. Keep the conversation positive by saying something like, “I’ll have RA for the rest of my life, and sometimes I’ll need your help when my joints are sore, but we can manage it together.”

How they can help: If your hands are sore, ask your children to help peel and chop veggies for dinner. Ask that they pitch in with chores, such as folding laundry and vacuuming, when you aren’t feeling well. Or they can look after little ones while you take a nap. Don’t feel guilty—your children will benefit by learning about responsibility. When they help you out, dole out praise, and consider giving them a reward, such as a gift certificate to purchase movies online.

April 2013