Arthritis affects one in three Americans, many of whom are parents faced with one of the most challenging roles in life. Add a chronic disease like arthritis into the mix and those challenges multiply tenfold.

It can be very difficult to cope with the tough demands of parenting when you’re suffering severe pain or fatigue, or unable to perform simple daily tasks. However, some basic lifestyle approaches and changes can help you to cope.

Perhaps the most important approach is to keep the lines of communication with your children open. The Arthritis Foundation points out that hiding your condition gives the impression that you’re ashamed. It also creates an air of mystery and uncertainty that can cause your kids to be more worried than if they were clued into your condition.

Give them age-appropriate information: For instance, a four-year-old will understand that you have a condition that’s painful and that makes it hard for you to move sometimes. A preteen or teenager can handle more information, such as how rheumatoid arthritis affects the immune system, or what happens during a flare.

 Here are a few more tips:


  • Give kids chores and responsibilities. Even if you don’t have a chronic illness your children should be pitching in from an early age. It teaches them responsibility and self-reliance. Plus, when you have a flare, they won’t be helpless about helping out.

  • Be active in short bouts. If playing soccer or Frisbee with your kids for an hour or so is out of the question, 15 minutes or 20 minutes will enough for that ever-important bonding time.

  • Be a cheerleader. When arthritis reaches advanced stages it’s even more difficult to play with your children. There’s nothing wrong with sitting in a comfortable chair in the backyard or at the park and cheering them on.

  • Plan around painful periods. Whenever possible schedule family outings, birthdays, or other activities for the time of day when you’re usually at your best.

  • Plan for outings carefully. If you’re going to your child’s Little League game or dance recital don’t forget to take your meds beforehand, and take extras with you just in case the activity runs long. Also, take any assistive device you need to the outing.

  • Sit whenever possible. Whether you’re helping small children to get dressed in the morning, combing your child’s hair, or preparing dinner, find a comfortable chair to sit in.

  • Choose arthritis-friendly clothes for your child. When shopping for clothing for small children who still need your help to get dressed look for those with the same features as your own arthritis-friendly clothes. Pull-on clothes, or loose-fitting clothes with zippers, Velcro fasteners and elastic waistbands, will be easier for you to put on your little one.

  • Be organized. Reduce the amount of time you spend moving around. For instance, keep as many day-to-day items near the front door, such as shoes, umbrellas, coats, or keys. Store extra towels, bath toys, and toilet paper in the bathroom. Keep all non-perishable lunch supplies in one cupboard, along with the lunch boxes, flasks or bottles.

  • Ask for help. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or when you’re having a flare it’s important to let your children (and spouse or partner) that you need them to pitch in more until you feel better. If you have to, hire outside help to lighten the load.

  • Get a good night’s sleep. Parenting is exhausting on its own. But according to the Arthritis Association, secondary insomnia caused by the pain and inflammation of arthritis can deepen fatigue. For better sleep follow a night-time routine, which may include a warm bath and stretching, take your medication, and use arthritis assistive sleeping devices, if needed.

  • Give up the guilt. There may be days when you’re simply not up to putting on a brave face. Remember it’s not your fault you have arthritis, things could always be worse — and you may feel better in a few hours. When you’re feeling really low, do whatever renews you best, such as a nap or a warm bath. You — and your children — will be much better off for it.