Discipline under the best of circumstances can be difficult. But when one child has leukemia, parents are stressed, siblings are angry, and the situation may become unmanageable. The first step is to decide whether the ill child is going to be treated as if she only has a few months to live, or as if she will survive and need to learn strategies for how to self-regulate difficult emotions. Step two is to examine your own behavior to see if you are modeling the conduct that you expect from your children. Step three is to develop a consistent response to the angry or destructive child to help the child develop social and emotional competence.
Barbara Sourkes, an experienced child psychologist, wrote in her book Armfuls of Time: The Psychological Experience of the Child with a Life-Threatening Illness:
While loss of control extends over emotional issues, and ultimately over life itself, its emergence is most vivid in the child's day-to-day experience of the illness, in the barrage of intrusive, uncomfortable, or painful procedures that he or she must endure. The child strives desperately to regain a measure of control, often expressed through resistant, noncompliant behavior or aggressive outbursts. Too often, the source of the anger—the loss of control—goes unrecognized by parents and caregivers. However, once its meaning is acknowledged, an explicit distinction may be drawn for the child between what he or she can or cannot dictate. In order to maximize the child's sense of control, the environment can be structured to allow for as much choice as is feasible. Even options that appear small or inconsequential serve as an antidote to loss, and their impact is often reflected in dramatic improvements in behavior.
In the following sections, parents share how they handled various behaviors of their ill child.
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