Skip to content

This information was reviewed and approved by Jennifer Moyer Darr, LCSW (2/28/2019).

Chronic illness may last throughout a person's life, although the frequency and severity of symptoms can change. Examples of chronic illnesses often seen in children and teens include asthma, eczema (atopic dermatitis), food allergies and/or environment allergies, eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) and diabetes.

A chronic illness can have a negative effect not only on a child's physical state but also on his or her emotional and mental well-being. It is important to address children's fears and anxieties that may arise if they have a chronic illness. 


Physical and Emotional Health Affect Each Other

Mental health and physical health impact one another. Increased physical symptoms can have a negative effect on a child's emotional health. Chronic illnesses can interfere with children's happiness and how they feel about themselves. When children are distressed and unhappy, their illness may be harder to control. Many things having to do with a chronic illness can affect the child’s or teen's emotional health. Some examples include:

  • A child may need to complete medical tests. These can be invasive and scary.

  • A child may be sad and grieving because of a doctor's suggestion to remove a pet from the home or to limit the child's activities.

  • A child may feel "different" from peers.

  • Medicine side effects can affect children's moods and how they feel about themselves and their bodies.

  • Infants and younger children, when sick, can be clingy, lethargic, sad, fussy, mad, tearful or withdrawn.

Children and teens often feel unhappy when sick. These mood changes often improve quickly as your child begins to feel better physically. However, when a child or teen with a chronic illness has mood changes that continue or return, this may signal a problem that needs professional attention. The good news is that it can be helped.


Areas to keep an eye on are:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits

  • Changes in school performance

  • Mood swings

  • Negative self-comments about the way he or she looks or feels

  • Not cooperating with medical care

  • Displays of strong fear or anger

  • Starting to withdraw from friends and family

  • Showing less interest in things he or she previously enjoyed

  • Looking unhappy, sad or angry

  • Fighting with siblings and friends

  • Beginning to talk about death.

Some children and teens can become very upset and scared about medical tests. Talk with your child's health care provider about how best to prepare you and your child for these tests. For instance, before the test occurs, your child may tell you whether he or she wants an explanation of the test or to see the medical equipment and/or room in which the test will take place. If you are worried about changes that begin to happen, talk with your health care provider about getting professional help.


Related Information for Download

Understanding Booklet: Children and Chronic Illness, Protecting Your Child's Emotional Health (pdf)

Helping Your Child Cope With a Medical Condition (pdf)


Our Specialists

Jennifer Moyer Darr

Jennifer Moyer Darr, LCSW