Family life

Whether your child has asthma or 'suspected asthma' it can affect the whole family – here’s how to keep family life running smoothly.

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Research shows that if someone in the family has a long-term health condition, it’s likely to affect the whole family in some way.

Every family is different, but we know from calls to our Helpline that it’s common for a diagnosis of asthma or 'suspected asthma' to have an impact on family life, even if it’s just because you all need to learn how to manage symptoms or adapt to a change of routine.

The good news is there are simple, effective things you can do to support your child so they have as few symptoms as possible, and family life won't be so affected.  

It’s not unusual to feel mixed emotions

Being told your baby or child has asthma or 'suspected asthma' can leave you feeling many different kinds of things. For example, you and/or your partner might be:

  • tempted to focus on asthma issues, neglecting other aspects of family life
  • relieved because you have a diagnosis - even if that's just 'suspected asthma' at the moment - and you can get on with learning more about it
  • determined to help your child and the rest of the family live as normal a life as possible
  • frustrated if daily routines are disrupted by having to remember to take medicines
  • overwhelmed with trying to stick to all the new routines such as taking medicines every day, going to doctor’s appointments and making sure anyone who cares for your child knows what to do if your child gets symptoms
  • stressed if days out and holiday plans need to change at the last minute
  • annoyed if there’s a disagreement about a decision, such as whether your child needs to go to A&E
  • exhausted, especially if your child’s getting lots of night-time symptoms, or they need to spend time in hospital

Getting organised with your day-to-day routine

It can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming when you’re trying to fit your child’s asthma medicines and medical appointments around childminder, nursery and school runs, or clubs and activities – especially when you have more than one child. If you work it may be difficult to take time off for your child’s asthma, and you may be worried about times when you’re out of your usual routine, such as going on holiday. These tips can help you make sure your child’s asthma becomes part of your regular family routine without taking over completely.

Have more than one reliever inhaler (usually blue) and spacer, so you can always find one quickly if your child’s having asthma symptoms. "We keep Rosemary’s blue reliever inhaler at the end of her bed so we can get to it easily in the night. We also keep one in her pink backpack which she takes everywhere, and one in school on a filing cabinet in her classroom where she can see it." - Tammy Gore, mum to Rosemary, 6.

Keep preventer inhalers where you can see them. "I've always taught my children to leave their preventer inhalers on their bedside tables so they're visible before they go to bed and when they wake up. If you keep them downstairs or in a drawer, you're not reminded to take them." - Jayne Bettles, mum to George, 14, and Lena, 12.

Put up a noticeboard or whiteboard at home for day to day planning and keep it updated with everything that’s happening in your family in the coming week. This can include medical appointments, after-school clubs and social arrangements, plus anything your child with asthma may need to take with them including inhalers and their asthma action plan. Or if you all have access to a shared online calendar via your mobile phones, you could use that too. 

If you work, talk to your boss about your child’s asthma. You’re entitled to a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off for dependents, so discuss how much this is. Be open with colleagues too about how serious asthma can be, and explain that your child will need you with them if they’re not well or need to go to the doctor. Even if your child is too young to have a definite asthma diagnosis, let your work know your child is being treated for 'suspected asthma'. 

Try coming up with your own solutions for balancing how you can complete your work while taking take time off for your child when you need to. For example, can you work from home, making up any lost hours in the evenings or at weekends? Is taking unpaid leave an option? This will reassure your boss that you’re committed to your job and you’re doing your best to keep up with the work.

For more information, visit www.gov.uk/time-off-for-dependants/your-rights.

If you can’t work because of your caring responsibilities, you should get a Carer’s Assessment

“I did feel guilty about taking time off work to look after George and Lena but I would always offer to work extra hours to cover my absence and work some hours at home. I had to have time off with my asthma too, but my manager was understanding as I worked extremely hard when I was at work.” - Jayne Bettles, mum to George, 14, and Lena, 12. 

Share responsibility. If you’re the main carer for your child with asthma, help make sure your partner also feels involved by encouraging them to come to appointments. Is it possible for you to take turns having time off work when your child’s unwell, for example? Try working out a plan where you can balance the care of your child so this is manageable for both of you. 

“Maria and I take joint responsibility for the girls and their asthma. We both know exactly what they need and when they need it. I wouldn’t dream of taking a back seat.” - Scott Brain, dad to Emelia, 8, and Elisia, 3. 

Have a support network. If you have friends and family nearby, think about asking them if they can be on standby for when you need help. For example, can they look after your other children if you need to take your child to A&E? Is there someone who can care for your child if you can’t; or just be there for you when you’re feeling low and you need a break? If you’re a single parent, find a support network – see below – and visit Gingerbread for advice and to connect with others.

“I’m a single mother and when Oliver’s been really unwell with his asthma it was so exhausting staying awake with him all night and taking him to all the appointments. I wish I’d had someone to take him out so I could have a nap, or to share it all with. Every parent, especially single parents, needs someone - a mum, a friend or a family member - who can offer support and listen to them.” Alexa Keatley, mum to Oliver, 11.

Encourage your child to take responsibility for their asthma from a young age. Get them into the habit of recognising their symptoms using fun stickers and as they get older they can start using their inhaler on their own.

Don’t let asthma rule. Try to make asthma part of your new ‘normal’ routine. "You can find ways to make life with asthma the new normal so it becomes part of family life without feeling like a disruption or a problem. For my kids, taking their inhaler is as part of their routine as brushing their teeth." - Sarah Johnson, mum to Thomas, 13 and William, 3.

"In the morning Rosemary does her inhaler while I do her hair," - Tammy Gore, mum to Rosemary, 6.

“I try not to let asthma stop us doing anything. My mum and dad taught me that if you want to do something, you don’t let asthma hold you back. You make plans around it so your life doesn’t have to change. I’ve never viewed asthma as a problem and I hope I’m passing that attitude on to my boys.” Anna Bonnett, mum to Gabriel, 10, and Beau, 5.

Enjoying days out and holidays

There's no reason why asthma should stop you and your family enjoying days out and holidays. Follow these simple tips to make things easier: 

Be prepared. If it’s cold: have you got a scarf for your child to wrap loosely around their mouth to warm up the air before they breathe it in?  Do you have their reliever inhalers handy? Do you know where the nearest hospital is?

Manage potential triggers. If cigarette smoke or pets trigger your child's asthma symptoms and you're going to a B&B or a holiday let, call in advance to make sure the place you've chosen doesn't allow smoking or animals.  

Take extra medicine in case you lose an inhaler. "Whenever we go anywhere we always make sure we've got two blue reliever inhalers at all times. And we always check out in advance where the nearest hospital is just in case!" - Jayne Bettles, mum to George, 14, and Lena, 12.

Check your airline policy for taking medicine on board a plane if you're travelling abroad. Pack two sets of inhalers, one in your hand luggage and one in your hold luggage. "On holiday I tend to take my son’s medication and equipment (spacer) in my handbag so I always have it with me." - Gillian Stewart, mum to Jason, 6.

Keeping family relationships on track

Your partner

There may be times when caring for your child will be emotionally and physically draining. If your child’s asthma ever places a strain on your relationship, these tips can help you both look after each other:

Make time. It can be easy to get so wrapped up in caring for your baby or child, that you forget to look after your relationship. Can you both arrange a night once a week where you just focus on eachother? If it's difficult to go out, stay in, have a nice meal, watch a film together, or just share how you're feeling about things, and how you can support eachother. 

Keep talking. It can help to be open about how your feel about your child's symptoms, routines and appointments, and how you're coping with sleepless nights or time off work.  You may discover that you and your partner feel differently about some things and that by talking to eachother you can share ideas for coping better. "Be each other’s confidante, advisor and sounding board and look at caring for your child as a joint responsibility," says Deborah Waddell.

“Simon took a while to learn about asthma because he hadn’t come across the condition before. He works full-time and as I do the majority of the childcare, I’m usually the first person to deal with any of the boys’ asthma symptoms. He is my backup though. We talk a lot about anything that’s worrying us – it’s good for me to share things with him." - Anna Bonnett, mum to Gabriel, 10, and Beau, 5.

Make sure your both involved. If one of you takes over all the responsibility for your child's asthma the other may feel left out. Try to share the responsibility of attending your child’s asthma appointments for example, so you both get the chance to hear about your child’s condition first hand – this will make it easier for you to talk to eachother about your child's diagnosis - or lack of one - and both get to grips with the medicines your child needs to take.

“When George was first diagnosed at 16 months, my husband did not understand asthma at all, although I did, having had asthma from the age of four. Stephen would panic when George was having an attack, which was a lot of responsibility on me. After George had experienced a few attacks, Stephen became more confident about giving him his medicine.  Now he understands so much about the condition and we’ve always shared responsibility equally. I do think that partners need to get involved with attending asthma appointments as this will give them an insight as to what the child goes through and their needs.” - Jayne Bettles, mum to George, 14, and Lena, 12.

Share the care. You could try splitting the tasks too, for example by one of you helping your child with their medicines in the morning, and one in the evening. "Having an asthma action plan that’s easy to find, such as pinned to the family noticeboard, means everyone in your family knows exactly what medicine your child needs to take and when," says Deborah Waddell. "Your child may feel more confident knowing there is more than one person they can go to for help with their symptoms."

Work together. You’re stronger as a team and by taking the above steps you’re both more likely to be united in the care of your child with asthma. This means ensuring your child takes their medicine as prescribed, helping your child manage their triggers, dealing with issues such as school and leaving your child in other people’s care, and coping in an emergency

“The girls having asthma has brought us closer as a family. We’re determined for them to live life to the full, so we do everything we can to keep them well with their asthma. The four of us have a shared goal - it feels like something really special.” - Scott Brain, dad to Emelia, 8, and Elisia, 3.  

Be realistic - "Your understanding and confidence will grow every day, but this won’t happen overnight. Give yourselves time to get used to your child’s diagnosis, and get support from your child’s GP and asthma nurse. You'll also find useful information on the Asthma UK website and our helpline," says Deborah Waddell, child asthma nurse specialist. 

If you’re a single parent

Whether you’re divorced or separated, if you have contact with your child’s other parent it’s vital that they know how to care for your child’s asthma. "Give them a copy of your child’s asthma action plan so they know everything from what triggers make your child’s asthma worse to when they should take their medicine," says Deborah Waddell.

Your other children

Having a child with asthma can affect the whole family, including siblings.You may find you have more demands on your time and less time to spend with them. Here are some ideas on how to help your other children come to terms with asthma in the family:  

Encourage them to share their feelings. Siblings may feel resentful about the amount of time you're spending with your child because of their asthma. Let your other child/children know that you’re there for them and that they can come to you when they need help, whether it’s with homework, an issue with their friends, or simply that they need you to listen to them. Try getting them to open up when they feel more comfortable, for example in the car, or out on a walk. "It’s important that they feel they can approach you without worrying that their problems are a burden to you when you’re already looking after your child with asthma." says Deborah Waddell.

“The older boys have had to cope with me being away from them when our youngest, William, has had hospital stays. There have been occasions when I've had to miss their sports games, which obviously saddened me, however they understand how important it is for me to be with him when he is unwell. We make sure the older boys still get time with us as often as possible.” - Sarah Johnson, mum to Thomas, 13, George, 12, William 3 and stepson Joshua, 12.

Do things together. Make time for regular family bonding, whether that’s playing a board game, watching a DVD together, having a game of Frisbee in the park, going on holidays and day trips. This reinforces your family unit and gives you shared experiences, encouraging communication. "It’s important for your child with asthma not to feel alienated or treated differently, and their sibling(s) to see them as an equal and not someone to be fussed over and given special attention," says Deborah Waddell.

Get the whole family involved in your child’s asthma care. "Let younger children see your child with asthma taking their inhaler and explain they need it to help them breathe, while older siblings can help them take their inhaler or use My Asthma Pack," says Deborah.  

“I feel it's very important to explain to the rest of my children what asthma is, so they have a better understanding of the illness, and are able to help Salis. His siblings are able to come and tell me when Salis is out of breath or coughing, especially when he is outside playing.” - Shakeela Riaz, mum of 5, including Sami, 6, and Salis, 12, who have asthma.

Extended family

If your child spends time with grandparents or uncles and aunts, it’s important that everyone knows about your child’s medicines and what to do if they have an asthma attack. This can include your child’s other parent, if you're separated. Giving everyone a copy or photo of your child’s asthma action plan can reassure you that everyone has all the information they need to keep your child safe and well. 

“When George and Lena were little and we’d leave them with my parents, I used to write everything down on a piece of paper for them – especially all the details of their medicines and what to take when.” - Jayne Bettles, mum to George, 14, and Lena, 12. 

“When Charlie was younger, I had a picture of his inhaler and spacer taped to the fridge, with clear instructions on how to use them, so grandparents or babysitters who came over to look after him could refer to this.” - Jo Brocklehurst, mum to Charlie, 7. 

"My mum was always worried about looking after William, 3, as she was nervous about him having an asthma attack and wouldn’t know what to do. But now she’s watched and learned from me, including how I give him his inhaler and what his triggers and symptoms are, she’s more confident.” - Sarah Johnson, mum to Thomas, 13, and William, 3.

Last updated August 2017