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
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
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.
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