Emotional Effects of Diagnosis - Frequently Asked Questions

What are the emotional effects of epilepsy on my child?

22 January 2010
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Children may go through the same emotional stages as their parents. They may fear dying, fear losing control or fear of the unpredictability of the disorder. Children also grieve, as they may be forced to change what they once could do. Therefore, it is important that when restrictions are put in place, you find other activities that your child can engage in safely. It may be helpful for children with epilepsy to meet other children with epilepsy. Again, for all children, self-esteem is crucial in their accepting themselves as they are.

Parents who tell their child that the child's medication is a vitamin are not allowing the child to begin to accept the disorder. Let children be responsible for taking their own medication, with supervision of the younger child, so that the child feels he/she can take more control. Do not focus on your child's limitations; rather, concentrate on what your child is capable of doing. Children are extremely motivated towards successful adjustment. Having to deal with seizures as part of their everyday development does, however, have the potential to traumatise children. Despite the best efforts of parents and physicians, the child may feel so overwhelmed that emotional development is affected. When trying to cope with the disruption of epilepsy, the child may experience behavioural and emotional difficulties. Even when seizures are controlled, some children still have these difficulties.

Warning signs, especially when there are a few, may indicate that your child is having trouble dealing with epilepsy. These warning signs may include hyperactivity, anger, anxiety, depression, confusion, disorganised speech, inability to listen to and comply with directions, and lack of pleasure.
The behavioural difficulties that children with epilepsy tend to experience are generally a result of the frightening, helpless and traumatic state in which they often find themselves. Seizures are often experienced as attacking and threatening, which in turn heightens the child's feelings of vulnerability. Having to deal with the sudden nature of seizures is often an extremely frightening and tense experience for children. While children with epilepsy may exhibit differences in their physical and neurological development, they must still achieve the same emotional and physical milestones as all other children.

Children with epilepsy often tend to have more difficulties in school. Usually, this is not a direct result of epilepsy but due to the consequences of the anxiety they experience. Many children with epilepsy do not have learning problems. Establishing routines for doctors' visits, taking medications, etc. Can help your child accept and deal with having epilepsy. In middle childhood and early adolescence, children may have new concerns regarding epilepsy and these may require the child to gain a new level of knowledge and understanding and how it will impact on their life as they grow. Older children often need to sort through their feelings before they can move on and accept their condition.
The information and explanations that parents give to their children act to buffer their child' experiences and build the foundation of their future awareness. Complications can occur when children's feelings are not acknowledged or comforted. Parents must not let their own feelings make things worse by preventing their child from engaging in various experiences or having independence. It is important you tell your child exactly what his/her condition involves, especially as children become older, so that they can accept having epilepsy. Distortions of reality will affect your child's development of autonomy and sense of self-competence. As children grow up, they may experience feelings of unfairness, pessimism, anger, dismay, depression and unhappiness as they try to achieve independence and self-respect.


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