A report published by the National Alliance of Caregiving titled “Young Caregivers in the U.S.,” found that the number of child caregivers was more than the total number of kids in grades 3 – 12 in New York City, Chicago and Washington D.C. combined. With over 1.3 million children being caregivers to a parent or grandparent, it is of vital importance to the well-being of these child caregivers that they are treated as children and not as adults. Use these guidelines to help parent a child caregiver and learn some ways to keep these children from feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities.
Keep things “normal.” Make sure children caregivers have opportunities to enjoy “regular kid” fun as often as possible. “Children need time to be children,” says Helen Land, PhD, a professor of social work at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, Los Angeles, who has studied caregiving relationships. “They need to have experiences outside of caregiving.”
Watch for signs of stress. If your child has frequent headaches or backaches, inability to sleep or eat, or stomach upset, it could be a sign that her burden is too heavy, says Land. Develop a support network. Having other adults to rely on can help ease the burden on your children.
Consider their duties a standard chore. “All family members contribute to the running of the household, so children can also be educated that household chores are not something they do because mommy or daddy has pain, they’re things family members do for each other,” says Land.
Don’t feel guilty about asking for help. Your children may be more willing to pitch in than you would predict.
Choose your child’s tasks wisely. Give them age-appropriate chores – and watch out for signs that they’re uncomfortable taking on a certain role. “Think about how it will make the kid feel to do it,” advises 17-year-old Matthew Beach, whose mother, Annette Beach, has rheumatoid arthritis. "I'd have to put my mother’s hair in a ponytail for her in front of my friends, and it was kind of embarrassing.”