Juvenile arthritis, including many serious rheumatic diseases affecting kids and teens, can strongly impact quality of life not just for kids but for their parents. Coping with juvenile arthritis in the family is a challenge for everyone involved.

Coping can include many stresses:

  • Dealing with pain and other JA symptoms
  • Managing stress and frustration due to limited activities
  • Grappling with self-image issues
  • Juggling medical appointments and drug schedules along with school or work
  • Balancing the needs of a child with JA along with other family members’ needs

Children with JA may get discouraged because their disease makes them feel different from other kids their age, unable to fully participate in fun activities from school playground games to team sports or social activities like skating or hiking. A kid with JA may feel singled out because she has to take medicines during the school day, or leave class for regular doctor’s appointments. Typical teen anxieties about fitting in or feeling physically attractive may be magnified for an adolescent who’s dealing with arthritis drug side effects or upset about not being able to join the football team.

A recent study of 60 kids and teens with JA living in the United Kingdom showed that a child’s physical disability is the main root of coping problems. The study showed that kids and teens with JA are not at higher risk of psychological difficulties, but when JA caused kids to limit their physical activities, coping problems like depression, anxiety or behavioral problems resulted.

While physical problems – painful or stiff joints, or feelings of fatigue – could make it harder for a kid with JA to cope with everyday activities or the demands of school, feeling different is a source of stress. One Massachusetts study of 36 kids with juvenile arthritis showed that not only pain, but also feeling they’re being rejected by their peers, caused psychological distress for these kids. The study also noted that such kids may be more likely to not talk about negative feelings to their parents, making it more challenging for them to get help.

Some experts have seen that a child with JA may have a different view of her quality of life than her parents. One Australian study showed that parents of kids with JA described higher levels of pain, and lower levels of physical, emotional and social functioning for their children than the kids themselves.

For all kids, including those with JA, school is the main activity of each day. However, normal activities during the school day like carrying books or typing on a keyboard may be more difficult for kids with JA. So their parents may be able to help them cope more effectively.