How much detail do you need to give them?
When your ulcerative colitis acts up on vacation, your plans might have to come to a halt. You may need to stay close to a bathroom, or symptoms like pain and fatigue may tempt you to just rest in the hotel room. Adults can usually sympathize, but it may be hard for your kids to understand your ulcerative colitis.
In a situation like this, kids may be confused about why they can’t go to the beach as planned. They might even be angry that you “don’t want” to take them. Talking to your kids about your ulcerative colitis and how it affects you may help them understand what’s going on in scenarios like this. Not only can this help prevent some family conflict, but it may also make them better able to support you.
Tips for Talking to Kids About Ulcerative Colitis
How you talk to your kids about ulcerative colitis may depend on their age (or maturity level). Some tips include:
- Stick to the basics: A young child does not need to know the science behind autoimmune diseases. Instead, just let them know that you get bad stomach aches sometimes and you need to go to the bathroom really badly or stay home and rest. As your child gets older, you can start to be more detailed about what makes your ulcerative colitis act up and how you take care of yourself.
- Use age-appropriate language: For example, your doctor might describe your symptom as “abdominal pain,” but you can call it a “tummy ache” to your five year old.
- Be open to questions: Kids of all ages may ask questions, and you may not always have the answers. Be patient with your responses, and it’s okay to say you don’t know and that you need to get back to them with an answer. Try to anticipate some of their questions and be ready with simple, age-appropriate answers.
- Let them know it’s not their fault: Sometimes, kids see their parents with an illness and worry that they did something wrong to cause this. You can explain that these diseases happen for complicated reasons, but it has nothing to do with them or anything they did.
- Let them know they can’t “catch” it: Younger kids are familiar with the stomach virus and common cold, so they may worry that any illness you have is contagious and may infect them. Let them know it’s different than the cold or flu and isn’t spread by germs.
When to Reach Out to Your Doctor
Ideally, your ulcerative colitis treatment should be able to help you manage your condition so that it doesn’t severely affect your life. If your symptoms are frequent enough that they are having a negative impact on your family, it might be time to talk to your doctor. This may be a sign that your ulcerative colitis treatment isn’t working as it should.
Dr. Kayal is a gastroenterologist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
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- How to help a friend or loved one suffering from a chronic illness. American Psychological Association. (Accessed on July 20, 2021)