July 21

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Helping Your Kid Navigate an Invisible Illness

By Charlie Fletcher

July 21, 2021

child health, mental health, physical health

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The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 96% of all chronic illnesses are considered “invisible.” Unfortunately, millions of people live with them each day – including children. Invisible illnesses can negatively impact multiple areas of life, from friendships and school to being able to focus and function properly during projects and tasks. 

For kids, those struggles can be even worse. 

As a parent, it can be incredibly disheartening to watch your child go through something out of their control. So, what can you do? How can you support your child and get them the help they need to navigate an invisible illness? 

Finding the Right Care

Your first priority should always be making sure your child has access to the care they need. Different chronic conditions require different types of treatment. Some of the most common invisible illnesses include: 

  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Digestive disorders
  • Heart defects

Almost all of those conditions require some type of specialist to be treated adequately. Not only is it important to make sure your child is seeing the right doctor, but that they’re receiving the right treatment solutions. As a parent, it’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the type of treatment your child needs. For example, if they have a digestive disorder like GERD, you should understand the importance of the different medications used to treat it. Involving yourself in the treatment process as much as possible will allow you to better support your child and answer any questions they might have. 

Being an Advocate

Children with invisible illnesses might be scared, confused, and even struggle with some mental health disorders as a result of their physical state. It’s up to you to be an advocate for their illness. That starts with working with their doctors and pediatricians. 


For example, if your child is struggling with RLS (restless leg syndrome), you don’t have to stay awake every night, too, agonizing over their discomfort. Be communicative with their doctor about things like: 

  • Common symptoms
  • Quality of life
  • Different treatment options

Advocacy can go well beyond the hospital and doctor’s office. Talk to others about your child’s illness. Join or start a charitable cause. Talk to teachers, friends, and neighbors. The more people who know the details about your child’s condition, the more support you’ll build in your community. 

Additionally, understand that it’s okay to let your kid be a kid! It’s tempting to “hold them back” from things that will enrich them or things they might enjoy, like sports or other physical activities that could exacerbate their illness. But, doing so could negatively impact their mental state and cause them to struggle when it comes to feeling independent, having self-confidence, or even forming healthy friendships. 

So many people are uninformed about these conditions. That’s how stigmas form and can keep people from getting the help they need. Now is the time to be your child’s voice and stand up for them – and their illness. The more people who are educated about different conditions, the easier it will be to squash stigmas and find quality treatment options. 

Showing Support

Kids aren’t immune to mental health struggles. If they’re having a hard time making or keeping friends, having difficulties in school, or they just don’t feel well, it will undoubtedly take a toll on their mental health. 

We touched on being an advocate for your child. But, that starts by being a support system for them at home. Talk to your child frequently about what they’re feeling. Everyone wants to be heard, and validating their feelings can make a big difference in the state of their well-being. You may even be able to “save” them from falling into depression or struggling with anxiety

It’s easy to focus solely on your child’s physical health when they have an invisible illness. But, don’t just assume getting them physical care is always enough. It can often be worth it for them to work with a counselor or therapist. Mental health professionals can help your child get to the “root cause” of any negative feelings and work through them in a productive, effective way. 

It’s never going to be easy to see your child deal with an invisible illness. But, you’re their first source of support. So, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of their condition, how to communicate with their doctors, and advocate for them when they aren’t able to do it themselves. 
By taking these simple steps, you’ll help your child navigate their illness and learn how to handle it. You’ll set a positive example for them so they can eventually manage their illness on their own, from self-regulation for anxiety to being able to continue physical treatment for as long as it takes.

About the author 

Charlie Fletcher

Charlie Fletcher is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who enjoys listening to podcasts, tending to her plants, and bingeing reality tv. She has a passion for social justice, workplace issues, and mental health, which you can read more about by visiting her portfolio. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn.

Charlie Fletcher is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who enjoys listening to podcasts, tending to her plants, and bingeing reality tv. She has a passion for social justice, workplace issues, and mental health, which you can read more about by visiting her portfolio. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn.

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