As parents with young children, we make sure they are growing at the appropriate pace, prepare healthy meals and take them for regular physical exams. As they grow older, we become more in tune with their dietary needs and watch their growth process, as well as keep track of their daily habits.
At some point children will begin to understand that as parents, we are concerned about their health, especially when they become ill. At what point do our children become interested in their own health? It’s hard to say. It depends on the child. If a child has a chronic illness, they will do whatever it takes to heal because the sadness in their parents’ eyes is too hard to bear.
Perhaps your child has a friend who is critically ill. Visiting that friend often will bring a realization to your child that people do become sick and sometimes die. They are confronted with their own mortality and begin to ask questions that often reflect a fear they will develop the same illness.
It is important, therefore, to talk to your kids about health issues. Be honest and above board (age appropriate, of course) in explaining a particular illness the child may be concerned about or heard about.
Kids who are chronically ill have an innate sense of how ill they really are. Most kids cope with illness better than adults. Their concern, more often than not, is not for themselves but for their parents. However, for those children who have never had the misfortune to become ill, it is important for them to understand that it does occur; that keeping in tune with their bodies is important in that it can alert them to any problems requiring medical attention.
This is not to say that parents have to constantly inform their kids of every illness that exists, leaving a child paranoid and afraid. A healthy conversation, especially with school-aged kids about the ramifications of smoking, drinking and drugs is important because it is part of our culture.
In addition, discussions about personal hygiene, including sex, should also be discussed and in a thoughtful and articulate manner. Children who are insecure or lack self-esteem may not care about their health. This is where parent intervention is needed. Helping a child cope with any health issue is a family matter and should be addressed with love and care.