Tips and Resources to Help You Explain Asthma to Kids

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A Word About Asthma

Asthma is lung disorder that affects the airways. Asthma attacks come and go, and one or more of a long list of symptoms may be experienced during any given attack. Examples of these symptoms include hives, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest pain. Unfortunately, about 10 percent of all U.S. children face the difficulties of living with asthma, and many of these children have trouble appreciating the significance of their condition, what its triggers are, and the need to take their asthma medication. Many parents, teachers, and care providers find it challenging to explain these advance concepts to kids. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken and resources that are available for helping children better understand how to live with asthma.

Explaining Asthma to Kids

It has long been known that many children are active and visual learners, which means they learn not by sitting passively and having concepts spoken to them, but instead by actively participating in instructive activities and viewing visual aids as they are being spoken to. Therefore, a particularly effective technique for teaching asthma concepts is to have children play games and complete puzzles that feature asthma-related issues. Younger children, i.e_.,_ those who are about age 4 to about age 10, can learn about asthma rather effectively by performing puzzles in simple formats, such as hidden picture puzzles (in which items relevant to asthma are “hidden” in a picture and must be “found” by the child); interactive, double-sided picture cards (on one side of which an asthma question is posed along with an appropriate picture, and on the other its answer is shown with another appropriate picture); and simple crossword and word search puzzles (in which key asthma terms are taught). These puzzles and aids should be designed to communicate to children _specific but simple_ concepts, such as the many things that trigger or exacerbate an asthma attack, and the various medical aids and medicines for treating asthma. The National Institutes of Health, which is an agency of the U.S. government, has made freely available several puzzles, visual presentations, and other learning aids that are designed to help young children learn about asthma. These puzzles and aids can be accessed here and here.

Explaining Asthma To Kids (Continued)

While the puzzles and aids mentioned above are suitable for teaching basic asthma concepts to young children, some concepts, such as exactly how to take a particular medicine, are better taught by an even more active approach. For example, an adult could show a child proper inhaler use at first by walking the child through the steps needed to make sure that the inhalation process is completed fully and correctly. This “hands-on” tutorial would include the basic concepts regarding how to hold the inhaler, how to make sure that it is correctly positioned within the mouth, and how to ensure that full dispensations are made while the inhaler is in the mouth.

Another teaching step is to have children become involved in creating an asthma action plan. To create such a plan, obtain a new notebook that is meant only for the special purpose of containing the child’s action plan. In this notebook, you should write both the list of medicines that your child is taking, and the dosage amounts and time during the day that they need to be taken. (If your child is old enough to write, she can keep her own notebook with her own version of the plan.) If medicine names are too difficult for your child to pronounce, you can color code them using colored stickers. If your child is unfamiliar with the concept of time, you can add a drawing of a sun in the notebook if a particular medicine is to be taken during the day and a moon if it is to be taken at night. In this system, a child can look at the notebook and conclude, for example, “It’s bedtime, so it’s time for me to take my red medicine.” As another part of the action plan, your child could draw pictures of all of the asthma attack triggers, such as particular animals and certain kinds of plants that specifically bother her.

Although it can be very daunting to have to explain asthma to kids, it need not be that way. With a little effort and creativity, you can convey to your child all of the important concepts that she needs to optimally live with asthma and lead a healthy and active life.


Centers for Disease Control And Prevention, Asthma Action Plan:

Mayo Clinic, Childhood Asthma:

National Heart, Lung And Blood Institute, Asthma Awareness: Curriculum for the Elementary Classroom:

National Heart, Lung And Blood Institute, Asthma Basics for Schools:

National Institutes of Health, Asthma in Children: