Even a very young child can start to do small things to look after their asthma. Helping your child to care for themselves can make dealing with asthma feel easier for you and for them.
- For example, knowing how to look after their asthma will help your child feel more confident and in control.
- You’ll have more peace of mind knowing your child is able to ask for help if they have asthma symptoms when you’re not with them.
- As your child gets older and has to deal with issues, such as peer pressure or the teenage desire to rebel, they’ll understand what they need to do to stay well. If they’re used to caring for their asthma from a young age, it may help them get through more difficult times later.
- Some parents tell us they can find it hard to trust their child to care for their own asthma when they’re not with them. So if you feel worried about letting your child do certain things for themselves, you’re not alone. But remember that if you do everything for them they may rely on you too much, which means they may find it harder to cope when they’re on their own.
- Don’t risk having to look back and wishing you’d let them have a bit more responsibility. You could try thinking of it like a skill you’re passing on to help them be independent, such as tying their shoelaces when they’re little or cooking as they get older.
From a young age, your child can:
- Help you wash their spacer – use water and washing up liquid and leave to air dry at least once a month
- Learn to look after their inhaler properly – for example, put the cap back on and store it in a special place.
“Gabriel keeps his inhaler and spacer in a special box under his bed, which he decorated with some drawings. I think it makes him feel grown up that he gets the box out himself. And for the past couple of years, he has taken the inhaler without my help – I watch from the other side of the room. Beau keeps his inhaler and spacer in a special bag in his bedroom.” – Anna, mum to Gabriel, 10, and Beau, five.
- Get into the habit of taking their reliever inhaler (usually blue) everywhere with them – they could decorate it with stickers and give it a pet name
- Keep track of their asthma symptoms using the My Asthma calendar and sticker set.
When your child is older they can:
- Get into the routine of using their preventer inhaler every day as prescribed. You can keep an eye on this and remind them if they forget, but it’s a good idea to encourage your child to start to remember it themselves. They could set a reminder on their phone, or put a post-it note on the bathroom mirror to remind them just before they clean their teeth every morning and evening
- Keep track of their asthma symptoms using emojis in the calendar on their phone
- Talk to their friends about their asthma, so others can start to understand their condition better
- Perhaps your child could give a talk to their class or take part in an assembly about asthma
- Learn to get organised. Some parents find it helpful to write asthma checklists their child can take with them when they go on school trips or sleepovers. Then they’ll get used to making sure they have their inhalers, other medicines, asthma action plan and emergency numbers with them wherever they go.
Involve your child in asthma reviews
Your child should have an asthma review at least once every year. See our tips about getting the most from the review.
Before the review:
- Find out how long the review will be and explain you want your child to be involved. This might mean it takes a bit longer. If you think the usual review time isn’t enough, you could ask for a double appointment.
- Talk to your child about how their asthma’s been recently. You could ask them to try to describe any symptoms they’ve noticed and think about their triggers. Ask them what they think about their inhaler and spacer – do they like them, or would they prefer to try different ones?
- Spot any patterns in symptoms together. If your child’s been using the wall chart and stickers or a calendar in their phone, you could see whether they’ve had more good or bad days.
- Use your phone to video any asthma symptoms they’re having – or if they’re old enough, get them to video themselves if you’re not with them. Showing their GP or asthma nurse can be easier than trying to describe the asthma symptoms.
- Encourage your child to think of questions they’d like to ask their GP or asthma nurse. Write down questions together so you don’t forget them.
- Make sure they understand the review is their appointment, not yours, so it’s their chance to find out things they want to know.
In the review:
- Encourage your child to do lots of the talking. Even if they’re very young, they can still tell the GP or asthma nurse how they’ve been feeling. It’s fine to prompt your child, but try not to take over.
- Prompt your child to ask their GP or asthma nurse questions. You could say, “Is there anything else you wanted to ask?” This will help them get into the habit of being proactive in appointments.
- Ask the GP or asthma nurse to check their inhaler and spacer technique so you and your child both feel confident using them.
After the review:
Ask your child if they understood what the GP or asthma nurse said. Encourage them to say it in their own words so you can be sure they’re clear.
Explain anything they haven’t understood – and if you’re not sure yourself, call the surgery to check, or ask one of our friendly expert nurses, either by phone on 0300 222 5800, or by WhatsApp on 07378 606728 (both Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm).
Help your child feel confident at school
Teachers will help look after your child’s asthma but it’s important for your child to take some responsibility at school too. This will help them feel more confident about managing their asthma and get the most from school – and give you peace of mind.
Make sure your child:
- Comes with you to meetings about their asthma, so their teacher gets a better understanding of how it affects them.
- Understands they must tell a teacher straight away if they don’t feel well. Work out a way for them to get the teacher’s attention quickly. Some children are shy and don’t like putting their hand up in class. And if your child’s having symptoms and finding it hard to speak, it may be physically difficult for them to explain what’s happening. Come up with a plan in advance. Perhaps they could have a ‘buddy’ who will get the teacher’s attention if they need help. Or they could have a coloured card or note in their pocket which they hold up if they have asthma symptoms.
- Can tell teachers what they need. For example, if they have some asthma symptoms during PE, they could say to the teacher, “I need two puffs of my reliever inhaler, to sit quietly for five minutes and then I can join in again.”
- Is happy taking their inhaler with their spacer just as they do at home. An adult should watch them at school to make sure they take it properly. Remember that children sometimes feel embarrassed using their inhaler in front of their friends, so they may rush it.
- Knows how to use their asthma action plan – and can explain it to other people, including teachers, who will have a copy.
- Feels confident about what they can do. For example, if a teacher says they can’t join in a games lesson because of their asthma, encourage your child to explain they can take part, and that exercise is good for people with asthma.
- Knows their asthma triggers and feels confident about managing them. In some cases, they may be able to avoid their triggers – for example, by staying away from dusty books or by agreeing with teachers in advance that they can sit away from windows on high-pollen days. But in reality it’s often hard to avoid asthma triggers. That’s why it’s so important your child takes their preventer medicine every day as prescribed, because it helps cut the risk of their airways reacting to triggers.
Pass on a positive attitude
Taking an upbeat, ‘can do’ approach can help your child understand asthma won’t stop them doing the things they want to do, if they look after their health. Encouraging a positive attitude will also help them feel more confident about managing their asthma.
Be easy on yourself
Sometimes, encouraging your child to be involved in looking after their asthma can take effort. There may be times when your child isn’t in the mood to talk about their asthma and just wants to go out and play. When you’re busy and your child isn’t listening, it may seem hard work to try to encourage them to help you wash their inhaler or use their My Asthma calendar. We understand there will be times when it’s much easier to do things for your child – so don’t worry if you have days like that. Just try to involve them whenever you can.
Last updated June 2019
Next review due June 2022