Coping with a Chronically Ill Child

Notes on a talk by Judith Larson, Ph.D.

Fall 1994

"80% of what we worry about never happens." This is just one of the comforting messages Dr. Judith Larson gave in her talk on coping with a chronically ill child. Dr. Larson, a Clinical Psychologist at Stanford University, demonstrated in a literal way her belief in comforting oneself by passing her personal teddy bear around the audience. She described various stages of feelings at the onset of diagnosis, including numbness, denial, depression, guilt and anger. These feelings are "all experiences on the road to healing yourself," said Larson. What we lose at the time of diagnosis is our expectation of what the future is going to be. Therefore, we must work through various stages of our grief: from shock to suffering and disorganization, and finally to reorganization, which includes looking forward to the future and making plans. To become effective again, we must let go of certain expectations we had. It is important to take things one day at a time and one step at a time. Working on being in the present and allowing yourself to grieve are additional steps you must take if you are having difficulty coping.

Be aware that children and other family members have different ways of handling their feelings. When children are feeling troubled, they resort to spiritual or intuitive means of expressing themselves. Above all, as a caretaker of a sick child, be sure to take care of yourself and seek out the help you need.

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