Tuesday January 8 10:35 AM ET
Chronically Ill Kids Often Use Religion to Cope
By Charnicia E. Huggins

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children with cystic fibrosis or other chronic illnesses may cope with their disease by relying on God's support and their own and others' prayers, according to the results of a new study.

``Children with chronic illness use religious and spiritual coping strategies of various kinds,'' lead study author Dr. Sara M. Pendleton of Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, told Reuters Health.

``By identifying and addressing religious/spiritual coping in a culturally sensitive way, healthcare providers can enrich their appreciation of how patients conceptualize health, illness, and healing,'' Pendleton's team writes.

The authors investigated how 23 cystic fibrosis patients aged 5 to 12 used religion and spirituality to cope with their illness.

Overall, the researchers identified 11 different religious or spiritual strategies that the children used to cope with their illness, Pendleton and colleagues report in the January online edition of the journal Pediatrics. Most used more than one coping strategy and 15 (65%) used four or more.

For example, nearly 7 out of every 10 children relied on spiritual social support, as illustrated by statements such as, ''My mom and a lot of prayer groups have been praying for me.'' And roughly two thirds of the children believed in God's support, as evidenced by statements such as ``God is standing by me and makes me happy when I am sick.''

Other strategies included petitionary religious/spiritual coping, in which children prayed to God and expected to have some influence on the outcome of their request; ritual responses, such church attendance; and the belief that God would intervene in the child's life to heal or perform some other supernatural act.

Nearly three quarters of the children reported having a high level of intimacy with God, through statements such as ''God is in my heart,'' and about half of the parents agreed that their child's faith was the most important influence in his or her life.

One study participant, a 7-year-old Lutheran girl, said, ''God is in me every single minute of my life,'' and also said that she knew ``for a fact'' that ``God can make people better when they are sick.''

Another participant, a 10-year-old boy whose mother said that he had never attended church before, said that God was ''very important'' to him. And, although this patient did not remember ever discussing religious matters with his physician, he said that he wanted his doctors to pray for him, because it ''just might be helpful.''

In light of the findings, Pendleton recommended that parents be open to talking with their child about religious and spiritual issues as well as about his or her chronic illness, ''so parents can better support their child,'' she said.

``Stay in tune with your kids,'' Pendleton advised. ``Talk to them about what's important to them.''

She added, ``Hopefully we can learn how to better take care of children by better understanding what makes them tick.''

SOURCE: Pediatrics online 2002;109:e8.