Talking with the kids about Multiple Sclerosis
How do you talk to children about MS?
If you're a parent or family member living with multiple sclerosis (MS), you may have some concerns about talking to kids about your condition. You might wonder how much you should tell them or if telling them about your MS will confuse or scare them. It's natural to want to protect them, but when it comes to talking to kids, honesty may be the best policy.
Sometimes, children can sense when something is wrong, and what they may imagine can be something far worse than reality.1 It can help to share your own feelings with them. Expressing sadness, anger or frustration shows children that these emotions are normal and acceptable. Of course, how and when to tell a child about your MS is a decision that should be made with his or her parents. Together, you can decide what is best for you and your family. If you choose to talk about MS, encourage the child to be open and honest about their feelings and any questions they may have. It may also help to have his or her parents there for support.
Answering their questions
Children are bound to have lots of questions about MS. What is MS? Can I catch MS from you? How will MS affect me? Try to answer truthfully in an age-appropriate way. For example, to explain what MS is, try using an analogy. It may help if you ask them to think of the body as a bunch of wires that carry information. If we want to move our hand, a message travels across the wires from our brain to our hand. With MS, the covering around the wires is damaged. That can prevent messages from the brain getting to the right place.
You may also want to reassure the kids that you can't "catch MS." It's not like a cold. If children want to know how MS will affect them and your family, be honest. MS is different for every person; so although you can't tell kids exactly what to expect, you can still prepare them for possibilities. You can let them know you may get tired more easily, or you may need help getting around or with chores.
Try to remember that kids are adaptable. The key is open communication. As long as they have the facts and feel reassured, most children can adjust to just about anything.
1. Minden S, Frankel D. Plaintalk: A Booklet About MS for Families. 2011. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/multimedia-library/brochures/brochures-alpha-listing/download.aspx?id=315. Accessed September 12, 2012.