Understanding Developmental and Behavioral Issues in Your Child Undergoing Treatment
Every child is different in the way that they respond and cope with the diagnosis of a chronic medical illness. However, there are some commonalities in the way children of similar ages cope.
Infants and Toddlers
Infants and toddlers are particularly sensitive to separating from their parents. Therefore, a main goal during medical treatment is to minimize periods of separation. The psychosocial team supports parents’ ability to stay with their child during procedures and encourages parental involvement in comforting the child through procedures. Toddlers may express fear of medical procedures by clinging to their parent or having a temper tantrum. The psychosocial team works with the child and parent to reduce the child’s fear by making the medical experience less threatening through medical play and encouraging time in the center’s playroom. Adherence to medical regimens can be a challenge to the parent of an infant or toddler. Creative ways to give medication are taught by all members on staff, especially the Child Life Specialist and nurses.
School-aged children may feel upset because of the interruption that treatment can have on school, friends, and activities. They are also sensitive to separating from their parents during medical procedures, and this age group is at risk for becoming overly dependent on their parents. School-aged children can be fearful of medical procedures, and the psychosocial team helps children cope with their fears by using medical play, distraction, and helping the child feel safe by engaging the child in the Center’s child-friendly environment.
The Center also focuses on ensuring that children continue to develop academically and socially by encouraging attendance at school when possible. However, at times, treatment may cause the child to miss many days of school which impacts the child’s educational and social development. Project SOAR (School Re-entry & Ongoing Academic Resources) is pivotal to addressing these issues. The Project SOAR team eases the transition back to school, helps parents navigate the education system, and monitors the child’s academic and social progress during and after treatment.
Concerns expressed by adolescents include the impact that treatment has on their ability to engage in their normal routines and activities, increased dependence on their parents, and questioning their mortality. While most adolescents understand the implications of the disease and treatment, some may deny the seriousness of the diagnosis and believe they are invincible, causing poor compliance and risk-taking behavior. Another concern adolescents frequently express includes the impact that treatment will have on their physical appearance, including hair loss and weight gain/loss. The center offers individualized support as well as a support group that combines socialization with a place where teens can discuss their concerns with other teens that are experiencing similar medical conditions.
Regardless of the age of your child at diagnosis, it is important to remember that the emotions of children of all ages usually reflect the emotions presented by their parents. From a very young age, children learn to respond to situations by watching their parents’ body language, tone of voice, and emotions, and oftentimes respond in a similar manner as their parents.