Help your child manage their own asthma

No matter how old your child is, it’s important to encourage them to look after their own asthma.

QUIZ: What's your asthma attitude?

Talking to your child about asthma

Even a very young child can start to do small things. 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 will understand what they need to do to stay well. If they are 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 are out of their sight. 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 wish 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 shoe laces 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 Bonnett, mum to Gabriel, 10, and Beau, 5.

  • 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. Older children could use emoticons on their phone.

“When Emelia was two and a half we put the chart up on her bedroom wall. She loved writing Y or N to show whether she'd had any asthma symptoms and putting on a smiley face sticker when she'd had a good day. I think it helped her to understand the condition and to feel more in control, even from that young age. And it was really useful for us to take the chart to her six-monthly reviews at the asthma and allergy clinic in hospital so we could show the doctor when her symptoms had been worse or when she'd been using her inhaler more often." - Maria Brain, mum to Emelia, 7.

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 their preventer inhaler next to their toothbrush to remind them.
  • talk to their friends about their asthma, so others can start to understand their condition better. Perhaps your child could even give a talk to their class or take part in an assembly about asthma.

“During the assembly, Max read out a poem he had written about what it’s like to have asthma. It’s since been used to explain asthma to other children, and on Asthma UK’s Facebook page. Telling his own story has helped his friends and teachers understand Max better and has been very good for his confidence – now he’s more likely to tell his teachers, ‘No, I can play football today’. And I’m more confident in turn that his teachers and friends know what to do in an emergency, so everyone’s happier.” - Fiona Wright, mum to Max, 10, who has 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, action plan and emergency numbers with them wherever they go.

“Kenji carries an emergency bag with inhalers and epi-pen at all times, and has developed a military-like routine. Sometimes other parents can be uncomfortable, but he’s become an expert at explaining what he needs, and what to do in case of emergency, to his teachers, swimming coaches and everyone else.” - Ernie McDade, dad to Kenji, 13.

Involve your child in asthma reviews

Your child should have an asthma review at least once every six months. This is a really good opportunity to help your child get involved with their appointments, and get used to talking to doctors and nurses about their asthma.

Before the review:

  • Find out how long the review will be and explain you want your child to be involved – sometimes, this can mean it takes a bit longer. If you feel the standard review time isn’t enough, you could ask for a double appointment.
  • Sit down together and 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?
  • If your child’s been using the wall chart and stickers, you could have a look at that and see whether they’ve had more good or bad days. This can help you spot any patterns.
  • Encourage them to think of questions they’d like to ask the GP or asthma nurse in the review. Write down questions together so you don’t forget.
  • 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 so you cover everything you both want to know, but try not to take over.
  • Let your child know they can ask the 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.
  • To make sure you and your child both feel confident about how to use their inhaler and spacer, ask the GP or asthma nurse to check your techniques.

After the review:

  • Ask your child whether 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 ring the Asthma UK Helpline and speak to one of our friendly expert nurses on 0300 222 5800 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm).

Help your child feel confident at school

Teachers will help look after your child’s asthma but it’s important for them 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, too.

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 have to 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. So 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 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 that there is no reason they can’t take part too, and that in fact exercise is good for people with asthma.
  • Knows their triggers and feels confident about managing them. In some cases, they may be able to take steps to reduce their exposure – for example, by avoiding 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 triggers. That’s why it’s so important they take their preventer medicine as prescribed, because it helps reduce the chance 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 some effort. There may be times when your child isn’t in the mood to listen to talk about their asthma and just wants to go out and play. When you’re busy and your child isn’t cooperating, 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 May 2016