When Every Day is Not A Walk in the Park: Children with Chronic Disease

New York, NY
August 15, 2001

While most American pre-schoolers have nothing more pressing on their minds than Elmo's latest escapade, their favorite doll's wardrobe and last week's trip to the zoo, thousands of children suffering from chronic diseases are living with the reality of daily medication regimens and major food restrictions. According to the National Kidney Foundation, illness doesn't have to equal unpleasant. Here are ten top tips from the foundation for parents of children with chronic disease:

  • Explain the word "diet" in simple terms. Even a child as young as two or three can understand what it means and surprisingly, children have been found to take dietary restrictions more seriously than adults.
  • Ask your child to make a list of favorite foods and take him or her with you when you talk to the doctor or dietitian to see if these foods can be incorporated into the diet plan.
  • Don't ever use bribes or force your child to eat. These tactics rarely work and usually turn mealtime into a nightmare for both parent and child.
  • A matter-of-fact attitude is your best shot at getting your child to take medication. Even very small children will swallow anything, no matter how distasteful, if they know they have no choice.
  • For babies and small children use syringes minus the needles to dispense the medication. These will help you measure the medicine more accurately and make sure that all of it goes directly into the child's mouth. Your child will also appreciate not having to smell the medicine.
  • Give choices. Although your child has no choice about whether or not to take prescribed medication, you can offer a choice of when and where. This will help them feel more in control.
  • Once the choice is made, make a schedule and stick to it. If you don't prolong the agony, your child will have a much easier time coping.
  • Sometimes medication must be given with meals, but don't give it at the table where your child eats. Find someplace not associated with food and eating, such as the family room and give the medication while your child is distracted by a favorite TV show.
  • Another weapon you may have in your arsenal at medicine time is water. If your child is on a fluid-restricted diet, water may be one of the things he or she would like to have most, so reserve part of the day's fluid intake for a couple of swallows after medicine time.
  • Speak up. Friends and relatives probably want to help but don't know how to approach the subject. If you ask you will be doing them a favor as well as yourself.

For more information on children with chronic disease contact the National Kidney Foundation at (800) 622-9010.