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This information was reviewed and approved by Jennifer Moyer Darr, LCSW (3/1/2019).

Teaching children about their illness and its symptoms, triggers and treatments can help make their care both safe and effective.

This will help reduce some of your worry. It is important to handle the chronic illness as only one of life's responsibilities. Likewise, managing the illness should be just one part of your child's daily routine — not the only focus.

It also may help to have Illness Action Plans written out for others who care for your child, like providing a written action plan for school, camp, child care and friends/family. By understanding your child's chronic illness and any special needs he or she might have, other adults will be better able to care for your child safely. Talk with your child's health care provider to make sure an Illness Action Plan is developed to fit your child's needs; the older your child gets, the more responsibility he or she can take for his or her illness.


Age-Appropriate Expectations for Your Child

It is always best to take a family approach. We all do better when someone we love helps us stay healthy. While parents will always have a role in their child's health, that role will vary. For instance, with increasing age, the older child and teen will take on more responsibility, and the adult will move slowly into more of a guidance role.

The following are some general guidelines that can be used, based on whether your child is preschool age, school age or a teen.

Preschool Years

Preschool years are all about gaining your child's cooperation and beginning to teach him or her self-care techniques.

Your child should be expected to:

  • Cooperate with medicines and therapies

  • Use correct techniques when taking medicines and therapies

  • Respond to adult guidance when symptoms happen

  • Begin to identify symptoms, and tell an adult when something doesn't "feel right."


School-Age Years

School-age years are all about learning and speaking up for oneself.

In addition to the preschool expectations, your school-age child should be expected to:

  • Know the dose, time and correct use of medicine

  • With the help of an adult, seek ways to remember medicines and therapies. For example, have a daily routine, such as taking morning medications with breakfast and evening medications with dinner, which can help him or her remember

  • Discuss treatment of symptoms with the adult helper

  • Identify things that make the illness worse

  • Begin to independently avoid or control things that make the illness worse, like avoiding exposure to allergens, such as animals to which they are allergic.


Teen Years

Teen years are about being able to do all of the things listed above plus having the ability to make wise decisions. Be careful! Many parents believe that teens can be totally responsible for themselves. However, it is in the teen years when action plans often fall apart. Just because teens often look and sound like adults doesn't mean they always think or act like adults.

In addition to the preschool and childhood expectations, a teen also should be able to:

  • Learn medicine actions and side effects

  • Plan and take routine medicines and therapies using reminder techniques, such as a written medicine schedule or an alarm wristwatch or cell phone. Text messaging also may improve medication adherence.

  • Pack medicines to take with him or her. Consistently having a packed travel bag may be helpful.

  • Identify when a medicine needs to be refilled from the pharmacy, and then tell an adult helper

  • Meet with the adult helper on a routine basis (at least weekly). When you meet, discuss the details of the action plan and how the action plan is going.

  • Avoid and/or control things that make illness worse at home, school and friends' homes

  • Identify severity of symptoms, treat the symptoms and know when to contact the health care provider.

These tasks may be inconsistently managed by the teen. Teens often need closer supervision during times of stress and/or illness. Because symptoms may be identified one time and disregarded by them at another time, supervision by a parent or adult helper is very important. As the adolescent demonstrates consistent responsibility, adult supervision can be slowly decreased, and the teen's status and privileges increased. You may go from watching him or her closely to just being needed to answer a question.

So remember, expectations vary depending on the age and developmental level of your child. At all ages, though, parents or adult helpers always play an important role whether their child is preschool age, school age or a teen.


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