Ill children are often treated differently by their peers who see them as dissimilar and fragile. Frequent absences from school can prevent a child from forming strong relationships and being an integral part of the school community.
A chronically ill child is treated differently in the family, too. Some parents may overindulge their sickly child trying to overcompensate for the unjust hardships and deprivation the child may face. Parents may be understandably overprotective and unnecessarily shield the child from every challenge. Puberty is a particularly difficult time. It is the time when the child strives for independence and detachment from the family, but for a child with chronic illness that leap towards independence is often thwarted by the dependence on others that is necessasary because of the chronic illness.
There are also effects on other family members. Parents can become overwhelmed by and resentful of the enormous demands their child's illness causes. Siblings may be resentful because the sick child requires more time and care, invariably taking time and care away from them. When family members feel angry and resentful while at the same time feeling guilty about their misplaced and inappropriate emotions, there is conflict. These conflicting feelings are communicated to the ill child and influence the ill child's sense of self.
Children with or without chronic illness learn who they are from their parents and others closest to them. Loved children feel lovable; abused children often believe they are bad and deserving of abuse; and children of depressed parents often feel inadequate because they fail to make a parent happy.
Family therapy might be very useful in helping the family of a child with a chronic illness to develop well, without maladaptive character traits or, worse, a character disorder. Once that happens, treatment is much more difficult.
I'm Dr. Blokar. For more information, click on the following resources: