Surviving Illness

When a child survives a serious illness, life is good again, right? Of course it’s good, but most likely it isn’t perfect since raising a survivor comes with a number of potential challenges. In this post, we’ll identify some of those challenges and the typical ways parents respond to them. Future posts will discuss each one in greater depth and point you to available resources.

Challenge 1: Over-Vigilance

After a child is seriously ill, parents can become over-vigilant. Because moms and dads know how bad things can get, the smallest sniffle and headache kicks the parental worry meter into high gear. And if the health care provider sends parents home with a long list of cautions and potential treatment side effects, they can agonize over the tiniest irregularities. This over-vigilance strips life of joy. It is no way for a family to live.

Challenge 2: Special Treatment

Conscious of what they nearly lost and grateful for renewed life, parents can easily fall into the trap of treating their little survivor like royalty. Instead of returning to normal, pre-illness life, they lavish the child with gifts, rewrite the family rules, and withhold discipline. Kids, unable to see the harmful consequences of such treatment, will eagerly milk the system. If this goes on for very long, the child so graciously restored to you, will become a small, unmanageable tyrant.

Challenge 3: Victim Mentality

Victim mentality can afflict both parents and kids. It often begins in the hospital when control over a child’s life and death is ripped away from the parents and placed in the hands of medical personnel. When all control rests in someone else’s hands, parents can easily view themselves as victims and pass that attitude on to their child. If the hospital stay is long, the illness is serious,  and the complications are frequent, parents and children can’t shake the mentality of helplessness even when the child survives and goes home.

Challenge 4: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Children who experience significant medical trauma during their illness run the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most children’s hospitals or large medical campuses have child life specialists who are trained to reduce that risk. But a child life specialist was not available or your child is exhibiting signs of PTSD, treatment is available. This subject will be discussed in future posts, but if you have immediate concerns, visit for more information.

If any of these challenges sound familiar, rest assured that you’re not alone. All parents of survivors struggle with them at some time to some degree. If you would like to share how your family handles them or about other challenges you’ve experienced, please leave a comment. Or ask a question, if you have one. I’d love to hear from you.

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