ARTICLES / General / Caregiving Youth /
Share This Article
By Hannah Lee, Staff Writer
The face of caregivers in the United
States today represents every race, ethnicity and
religious sect. They can be found in virtually
every zip code. And yet, there is still a
population of caregivers that often remains invisible.
It is estimated that 1.4 million children in the United
States participate in the care of a family member or
loved one who is either critically or chronically ill.
Either living in the same home or nearby the ailing
person, these children partake in a wide variety of
activities of daily living including everything from
bathing to shopping. However, they are often not
included in the training or the support structures
designed to help caregivers.
But as a parent who is also a caregiver,
there are ways to help your child ease into but also
successfully maintain a caregiving role.
Often parents want to protect children
from the harsh realities of life. But by not
giving them the proper information they need about the
situation, you can end up doing more harm than good.
“Children worry anyhow, even if they are being told
everything is okay,” explains Laurie Conners, Project
Manager of the American Association of Caregiving Youth.
Expressing your concerns and fears with your children
gives them permission to do the same, preventing them
from dealing with it silently. Also by explaining
the practicalities of the disease and the treatment,
everything from common side effects from certain
medications to potential outcomes, prepares the child
for what to expect so that nothing is a surprise.
Many times when medical professionals
educate and train new caregivers on the different
modalities associated with the disease, children aren’t
involved in learning these necessary techniques. As a
parent, find a way to give your children the skills they
need to do these jobs as easily as they can.
Use the opportunity to teach your children about the
disease and caregiving skills as another way to spend
time as a family.
A way for you to insure your child talks
about what they are going through with the added stress
and responsibility of caregiving is to appoint an
advocate in the family. This is a person outside
of the direct living environment that your child can
visit or call on the phone to voice feeling and problems
they might encounter. This way, even if your child
doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you, there is an
adult accessible to discuss concerns.
Creating time to be a family outside of
caregiving tasks is a great stress reliever for the
whole family. Try to remember all the things
you used to do as a family. It could be something
simple as an hour at your neighborhood park or a night
out for pizza just as long as it is time away from the
responsibilities of caregiving. If it is not
possible for you to get away, plan a game night at home
to laugh and enjoy each other’s company.
Children in a caregiving role often must
neglect outside friends and activities because of the
responsibilities at home. Perhaps they need to
come home right after school because the parent is still
at work and someone needs to take care of the ailing
person. Or they may be embarrassed to invite
friends over in fear of what they might think. In
turn, they become isolated from the rest of the world.
However, it is important for kids to maintain
relationships with people their own age. Even if
it is just one afternoon a week, try to find a way for
your child to play with friends or join an activity
Just as adult caregivers often must
juggle the responsibilities of work and caring for a
sick family member, children also play a dual role as
student and caregiver. And often children suffer
at school because they didn’t get a chance to finish
their homework the night before because they were
helping the ailing person, they had to get up very early
to bathe and dress that person or they are simply
worried about what is happening at home. As a
parent, it is so important to make certain your child is
adequately prepared for school each day. And talk
to your child’s school to let them know the situation at
home. If they understand the added constraints, teachers
and school administrators can be a valuable asset in
your child’s wellbeing.
Valuable traits such as independence and
confidence often go hand in hand with the responsibility
of caring for another person. And children learn
valuable life skills that other children may not learn
until much later in life. However, what is
important is that your child is getting all the support
and encouragement they need to be not only a successful
caregiver and student, but also have time to be a kid.
www.aacy.org to learn more about the
American Association for Caregiving Youth and what you
can do to help your child.