Dr. Jon Segal, CEO of Discount Medical Supplies and his brother were child caregivers since a very young age. When he was ten years old and his brother eight, their father was diagnosed with cancer and along with their mother they took upon the task of taking care of him. His story is among the many out there of children stepping up and taking care of a loved one.
Even the smallest chore around the house to collaborate in the caregiving tasks makes them caregivers. It is a great learning experience, teaches them about responsibility, patience, compassion, tolerance and many other important values that will help shape their personalities and make them better individuals.
As caregiving can be a positive learning experience for a child it can also be conflicting. Their childhood could get confusing and force them to grow up at a pace that is not natural. The child doesn't see the difference in what is good or bad in a situation like this, they just see it as it is , not a burden but an act of love. It is important though to not overload them with a responsibility that usually belongs to adults, this burden could uneven the balance of child caregivers and affect their school performance, their mood, their energy and make them look for ways to release any tension they might be feeling which could result in isolation and disturb their social behavior. Of course this is not the case for all child caregivers but is what commonly happens.
It falls in their parents to help them find a way to release any negative thoughts and simply sit down and talk. Communication is the key to help them keep that childish light alive, once it loses their eyes it is very hard to gain it back. Let them know and understand they are not responsible for their loved one’s condition since guilt is normally the catalyst in any disclosing behavior resulting from it. Look for any signs of stress or tension, in kids they do not always know how to put those feelings into words, so watch out for any variation on their behavior.
A good example of how to keep a good communication is the one done by Mariela Miranda in her blog Heroes of Love. She says, “Teach them how to be part of the caregiving process. They can learn so much from the situation with grandpa. Learn how to take care of him and love him even more when they understand how much he needs us. They also, in time, acquire the skills to deal with their emotions.”
It is good to keep them informed of what the condition is and answer any question they might have. The fear of the unknown can only be diminished with being informed. It is a good thing to talk about the disease, it is not a forbidden topic. LeAne Austin, freelance writer for Caregiver.com, says that children have the capability of knowing something is wrong; focusing their attention in other things apart from the health change in their family member, reassures them that life as they know it, will go on naturally.
It is good to let them be involved in caring for a loved one but up to a certain point. Their own needs are to be a priority as well and not let them stand aside. Showing genuine interest in the child's life helps reduce their sensation of anguish and guilt and succeed in their own activities outside from home.
Everyone in the same household can be affected seriously if there is not a proper communication. There must be an understanding and a grief period to help everyone cope properly with the changes occurring at home. Child caregivers are the smallest heroes in a silent but wonderful labor, caring for them will empower them in a circle of love.