How to Talk to Kids About Arthritis

When your arthritis pain flares up, your family life is disrupted and everyone is affected. Children may overhear conversations or simply notice a change in routine, and suspect that something is very wrong. On bad days, you may need to rely on family members, friends, or neighbors to do things with your children or grandchildren that you would normally do yourself.

Children have a strong radar for change, and if they don't know what's going on, they can easily become anxious and disturbed. Difficult as it may be, the best thing you can do is communicate information about your condition, and how it affects them, in a way that helps put their minds at ease.

1. Accept that you have to tell children something. They deserve an explanation so that they can adjust to or cope with unexpected changes in their lives.

2. Know your disease. When you understand exactly what arthritis is and how it affects you, you not only help yourself, but you are better able to explain your condition, limitations, and solutions to others.

3. Use age-appropriate language to discuss your disease and the difficulties it causes. Children need to understand the aspects of your disease that will affect them. For instance, very young children—between the ages of three and five—cannot understand most of the facts of your disease, but they need to know that they didn't do anything wrong, and that your low mood or low energy level has nothing to do with them.

4. Reassure them. Be sure children understand that, in spite of your limitations, their needs will be taken care of.

5. Encourage questions and answer any questions they may have as honestly and directly as possible. The questions children ask can let you know the limits of their understanding.

6. Accentuate the positive. Arthritis is manageable, so why not present it that way?

7. Communicate. Express your own feelings about having arthritis to encourage the children in your life to communicate theirs.

8. Encourage children to go on about their normal lives, playing, going to school, and being with friends, even if their routine has to change. Children need to know that you want them to continue to be happy and have fun even though you may not always be participating in their activities in ways they are used to.

9. Talk about your condition whenever you need to. Better to remind the kids why you're tired, and maybe a little grouchy, than to let them think they did something wrong.

10. Seek the help of a professional.
Speak with your physician or a social worker who knows how to address children's concerns and can help you cope with any issues that may come up relating to arthritis and your family.


Harvard School of Public Health: Plain Talk About Arthritis and Key Words

New York University Langone Medical Center: Straight Talk to Kids