Talking to your child about asthma

Use these simple ideas to talk to your child to help them understand their asthma.

Does your child know what asthma is and what’s happening if they have an asthma attack? Do they understand how their medicines work? Talking to your child about their asthma, even when they’re really young, can help them understand the condition and take it seriously without being scared.

A child who understands their asthma will be more likely to:

  • Feel less frightened about having an asthma attack because they know what to do if they spot warning signs
  • Take their asthma seriously because they understand the condition better
  • Take their medicines exactly as prescribed because they understand why they’re taking them
  • Be able to explain their asthma to other people because they know the right words to use
  • Live life to the full because they understand that asthma doesn’t need to hold them back from doing the things they love.

“We talk about things that could be making them feel poorly and although we don't use asthma as a ‘scare story’, we do highlight that it can be dangerous and needs to be monitored.” - Sarah Johnson, mum of Thomas, 13, and William, 3, who both have asthma.

Be prepared!

You’ll feel more comfortable talking to your child about their asthma if you think about the kinds of questions they might ask first so you can have some answers ready. Good ways to learn about asthma include:

  • talking to family members or friends you know with asthma
  • looking at the information we’ve put together especially for parents of a child with asthma
  • downloading our ‘Asthma and your child’ booklet which is packed with loads of tips and ideas on managing your child’s asthma well
  • speaking to your child’s GP or asthma nurse if you have any questions or concerns
  • calling our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am – 5pm; Mon – Fri) to ask our asthma nurse specialists any asthma-related questions.

Remember, though, that you don’t need to know everything! Your knowledge, especially your knowledge of your child’s asthma, will build up over time.

Two ways to make talking easier

1. Plan when and how you’re going to open up the conversation. Could you sit down with your child straight after school with a drink and a snack and talk for 10 minutes? Or would it feel right to chat when you’re doing a shared activity, such as unloading the dishwasher or on a dog walk?

2. Create space for your child to talk to you without being interrupted. Turn off the TV or radio, put mobile phones out of sight and make sure other siblings and pets are unlikely to need your attention for a while.

Six ideas to help you talk to your child about asthma

Lots of parents find it helpful to use a ‘prop’ when they’re talking to their child about asthma. Why not try these:

If your child hasn’t started school yet…

1. Our My Asthma pack comes with a wall calendar and set of smiley face stickers to help make spotting asthma symptoms fun.

Useful for talking about: your child’s symptoms and triggers.

2. Monkey has an asthma attack is a storybook created to help young children learn about asthma.

Useful for talking about: what asthma is, going to hospital and asthma attacks.

3. Why not ask them to draw a picture of how asthma makes them feel? Or use a favourite toy and ask them how their toy feels when they have asthma symptoms.

If your child’s at primary school…

1. Your child’s written asthma action plan contains all the really important information about their asthma.

Useful for talking about: your child’s triggers and medicines, and what to do if they have asthma symptoms or an asthma attack.

2. Our ‘What’s your asthma attitude?’ quiz has been put together to help you understand how your child is feeling about their asthma.

Useful for talking about: your child’s feelings and fears.

3. Our ‘Asthma Glossary’ is an A-Z of asthma-related words you might come across on our website or at the doctor’s

Useful for talking about: your child’s asthma in general!

Three tips for making sure the conversation’s 2-way!

1. Encourage your child to ask questions. Tell your child they can ask you anything about their asthma. Reassure them that if you can’t answer something straight away, you can look up the answers together. Or tell them you’ll write the question down and ask their GP or asthma nurse when you next see them.

2. Listen carefully to anything your child says without interrupting. Let them finish talking before you give any opinions or advice.

3. Ask questions. Asking lots of questions can get your child talking. For example, ask your child to tell you about their asthma symptoms and how they’re feeling. Ask them if they understand how their medicines work, and if they know what to do if they have asthma symptoms and you’re not with them.

Explaining asthma to your child

The words you use to explain things or way you answer your child’s questions will depend on their age and the stage they’re at. Here are some simple examples to get you started – you can change them depending on what your child asks and what you think they’ll understand.

“What is asthma?”

Your asthma means sometimes the little tubes that take air into your lungs don’t work very well. Think of a straw. You can usually suck through lots of air. But if you hold the straw so the hole is narrower, then you can’t through suck as much air. That’s what it’s like for people with asthma.

The good news is, though, that there are medicines to help the little tubes work well.

“What is an asthma attack?”

An asthma attack is when your asthma makes you very poorly and you can’t get enough air into your lungs. Do you remember when you were unwell at Uncle Mark’s / at the park? You had an asthma attack. You were wheezing / coughing / you couldn’t talk properly / you had a tummy ache.

If it happens again, we will get you help from doctors very quickly and they will make you better. But if you take your medicines every day it is much less likely to happen again.

“Why do I have asthma?”

We don’t really know. Scientists are working hard to understand why people get asthma and they have lots of ideas, but they don’t know for sure yet.

Lots of children have asthma and sometimes that’s because their mum or dad or someone else in the family has it. You can’t catch it from someone else and they can’t catch it from you. The main thing you need to know is that your medicine can help you stay well.

“What things make my asthma worse?”

Everyone with asthma has certain things that make their asthma worse and these things are different for everyone. For you, being around cats/grass/dust might make it harder for you to breathe properly.

But the main thing that can make your asthma worse is not taking your medicine. That helps your lungs work properly even when you’re around cats/grass/dust.

“Why do I need inhalers?”

One inhaler (the brown/purple/orange/grey one) helps to keep your lungs working well. You need to use that one every day, the way the doctor told us. The other inhaler (the blue one) helps you feel better quickly if you start to feel poorly. You need to take it with you everywhere – school, the park, grandma’s, cubs - in case you start to find it hard to breathe.

“Will I have asthma forever?”

Asthma symptoms come and go. Some people with asthma may not have symptoms for days, weeks, months or even years but are still susceptible depending on their triggers, a bad virus or weather/air conditions. But you’ll get used to taking your medicines so it doesn’t make you feel poorly or stop you doing the things you want to do.

“Who will look after me if you’re not there?”

We’ll make sure everyone who looks after you, like Granny and your teachers at school, knows about your asthma so they can help you if you ever feel ill. We’ll tell them what they need to do so you don’t have to worry. We’ll also give them a copy of your written asthma action plan so they have all the information written down.

“How can I tell my friends about asthma?”

You can tell them that sometimes it’s hard for you to breathe, but your inhalers help make it easier. That means you can still play, do sport and join in all the things they do.

If your child’s worried…

Your child may quickly get used to having asthma and take it in their stride. But some children feel frightened, especially if they have symptoms or an asthma attack. If your child is worried:

  • Reassure them that you’ll manage it together.
  • Explain that their medicine works very well – they just need to use it properly.
  • Tell them there are lots of doctors and nurses who are very used to helping children with asthma and can help them stay well.
  • Point out other people who have asthma and are healthy – perhaps you or someone else in the family has it, or you could tell them about sportspeople with asthma, like cyclist Chris Froome.
  • Encourage them to talk about their fears – you could write down some of their worries together and talk them through with your child’s GP or asthma nurse.

And don’t forget you can call one of our friendly asthma nurse specialists on our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Mon – Fri; 9am – 5pm).