Your child has been through so much. Why not give her anything she wants? Why not let him do anything he pleases? The short answer to these questions is: because that’s not what’s best for your ill child. In fact, often in healthy and challenged children alike, acting out is a cry for boundaries – it’s a child’s way of asking if you care enough to dish up some tough love, the kind of discipline that’s as difficult for parents to give as it is for the kids to take. Especially for a child dealing with a chronic health condition, structure and limits can feel good and safe. Their illness has already made their lives feel out of control—they could actually be craving a little more control from you.
Here are four ways to help your chronically ill child feel supported by your discipline:
1. Be Realistic
What are the realities of your child’s condition? For example, if it’s impossible for your child to tie his or her shoes, or to remember to tie those darn shoes, it would be unfair to insist on this. That said, it’s also important not to use your child’s chronic health condition to justify misbehaviors. Know your child, know the condition, and know what are, and are not, reasonable expectations. It is in our human nature to want to feel useful and make the most of the skills we possess. Your child will feel better about himself if you let him know you expect him to try his best. Baby steps may be necessary, but a realistic goal is to make progress, however long it takes.
2. Be Consistent
This applies to supporting the discipline of a healthy child and may be even more important when working with a chronically ill child. Consistency is what allows a child to predict the consequences of his or her actions. It also helps make you less of a “bad guy” – if you are consistent in clarifying and enforcing the rules, your child can blame the rule if he breaks it, but he shouldn’t blame you for enforcing it.
3. Be Positive
You can either be behind discipline or ahead of it – the carrot or the stick. Unfortunately, most parents are forced to use some sort of consequence at times. But whenever you can, motivate your child’s behaviors with rewards. Again, like consistency, this helps you stay on your child’s “team”. Motivating your child with positive rewards shows that you’re willing to help your child succeed, not only correct them when they slip.
4. Be a Good Role Model
Nothing teaches your children like your own behavior. Remember that you are constantly setting an example—so make it a good one!
Proper discipline can seem exhausting at first, especially after all you’ve been through as a family with serious illness. But if you do it right from the beginning, you will prevent unneeded heartache and will help your child grow and adapt emotionally to all the issues he or she is facing.