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8 Tips for Parents of Children with Juvenile Arthritis (JA)

How did my child develop arthritis? This is a question that pediatric rheumatologists hear all the time. It’s a scary situation for many parents, made all the worse because so many don’t realize that their child could be at risk for this disease. Arthritis is commonly thought of as an “old person’s disease,” but unfortunately that is not the case.

In fact, an estimated 300,000 children in the U.S. are affected by some form of juvenile arthritis (JA). Since July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month, we’d like to share some tips on how to help your child cope with the symptoms of his/her condition. These strategies have been used effectively by other JA patients here in Alabama.

1) Find Ways to Stay Active

It’s important for your kids to find ways to stay active, this is especially important if they are living with juvenile arthritis. Getting regular exercise helps kids improve the range of motion in their affected joints and manage their symptoms. However, some forms of exercise are better suited for arthritis patients than others.

Girl with JA swims in the pool

Swimming is a great option for children living with juvenile arthritis. It can be a great place for them to exercise while also relieving pressure from their joints. Parents can get creative when it comes to keeping their kids active. You should work with your child to find an activity they love and that isn’t too strenuous.

2) Allow Them to Pursue Their Passions

Living with arthritis is difficult no matter who you are. Children with JA should be given the opportunity to hang out with friends, invest time in their hobbies or even just enjoy some good movies. These activities can provide a distraction from the pain of their symptoms and support a more positive frame of mind.

3) Keep Your Kids in School

Most children aren’t excited to wake up early in the morning and head to school. Add incredibly stiff and painful joints to this mix and it can be very, very difficult to get your child to school. While they may have to grit through some pain to get there, many patients claim that being in school provides another distraction from the pain. Moving around should also help relieve some of the pain and stiffness over the course of the day.

(Giving your child a pillow to sit on can make a big difference on especially painful days.)

4) Help Raise Awareness for the JA Community

This is actually one of the best things you can do with your children. The Arthritis Foundation and other groups organize several events like the annual Kids’ Summit and Arthritis Walks that take place in here in Birmingham. Not only does this take their mind off their pain, but JA sufferers are taking an active role in the hunt for a cure.

Teams at Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis in Birmingham

The Jingle Bell Run takes place in Birmingham every December!

5) Make Sure They Get a Good Night’s Sleep

As a parent, you’ve probably heard about how important a good night’s sleep can be for your child’s development. It’s even more important if they are dealing with a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis. When they’re tired, their symptoms can be easily exacerbated. In fact, chronic fatigue is fairly common amongst patients battling these conditions.

Fortunately, there are several things that you can do to help your child get a good night’s sleep:

  • Get your children some comfortable pajamas. During a flare up, even the lightest touch of clothing can be very painful. Stiff pajamas can become a nightmare.
  • Their bed should have comfortable pillows and soft blankets. Some patients have found that keeping a pillow between their knees can be great and there are also specially designed pillows for extra neck and back support.
  • Herbal sleep aids can also come in handy. Just be sure to talk with your pediatric doctor before starting any new nighttime regimen.

6) Let Them Take Naps

Naptime is also a very important consideration when raising a child with juvenile arthritis. It takes a lot of energy just to move when your joints are stiff and sore, so the extra rest is often necessary. 20 minutes of lying down on the couch or bed can help them tackle the challenges ahead with more resolve.

7) Get a Heating Pad

Heating pads can provide significant relief from joint pain and stiffness. There are electric versions and ones that you can heat up in the microwave. Many of these pads come with a strap so they can be attached to an arm or leg underneath the clothing. This provides relief for your child during the school day without them feeling self conscious.

8) Adopt the “They’ll Tell You” Policy

Mother with son who has arthritisLast but not least, research has shown that families can put extra stress on children facing JA. They’re not doing it on purpose, actually most are simply trying to be helpful. Unfortunately, asking if this or that hurts can bring the pain back into focus.

We recommend adopting the “they’ll tell you” policy. Trust your child will tell you when they are in pain and need help. Otherwise, allow them the opportunity to stop thinking about the pain and enjoy their time as a kid.

Please let us know if you have any other questions related to these conditions and be sure to tell others about Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month this year.

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