Giving your disease a name, or persona, to help children understand chronic illness

In a discussion about “Why Does Mommy Hurt?” An member commented that she uses a name/persona to talk about her illness with her child. I thought it was a great idea.  Here is an abridged version of her comment:

green monster“The name Joey also worked because it is the name of a baby kangaroo and a junior clown. I ran a children’s entertainment company before I got too hurt. Being a clown, having a joey is understandable. My health fell in great decline before my youngest was 2. I said mommy has Joey or Joey is here to visit. By giving it a name and the impression that the episodes, flares, will go away at some point, the kids seemed less disappointed. This offers hope to my children. Now they can see when I have joey and will tell me it is time to come home or rest. I rarely speak of my pain to them. I avoid that word as much as I can for the simple fact that I don’t want their memories to be consumed with mommy being in pain. One thing is clear, when Joey is here it is time to go home. Joey might require ice or quiet rest time. They also know that my migraine medicine might make me sleepy. Give your flares a name: Joey, Charlie, Samantha… Whatever. That way you can acknowledge that this persona is here to visit temporarily but will go away (decrease) at times. This persona also gives your son a person to be mad at and will not be mad at you.” -littlemama

I love the idea that using a persona allows you to avoid using words like “pain” and “sick,” but the child understands that when ie, “joey” is here, the parent needs to rest and doesn’t feel well.   What are your thoughts?


Thank you for reading! I’d love to hear your comments, feel free to comment below.  Follow “parentswithpain” by entering your email in the “subscribe” box to the right.


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Elizabeth Christy

Elizabeth Christy is an author, writer, and IT professional living in Sterling VA. She lives with her husband James and 4 year old son, Jimmy. In addition to basic survival, Elizabeth enjoys reading, sewing, and nature. She also runs the nonprofit organization "Books and Bottles", which promotes reading to young children. (

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