talking to young kids about asthma

Asthma diagnosis for your preschooler? We can help you talk to her about it, and help her learn how to manage symptoms.

Asthma in Preschoolers

Here are some smart, stress-free strategies doctors and other asthma experts recommend for explaining asthma to your child:

Explaining Asthma

If your child has been diagnosed with asthma, you've probably been inundated with information about the condition and how it's controlled. But how do you share this information with your little one in a simple (and not scary) way? Let us give you some basic talking points to use with your child.

Start with the Technical Explanation

Nurse practitioner Gwen Carlton suggests starting by explaining the physical structures involved. You could say something like "in each lung are tubes that look like upside down tree branches. Around those branches are muscles that squeeze on the tubes." As you explain, you can gently grip your child's arm to demonstrate how the muscles squeeze the bronchial tubes.

During an asthma episode, the tubes swell up and the center gets smaller, making it difficult for air to pass through. You can explain that the noise of the air squeezing through the tubes is called wheezing.


Use Visual Aids

You don't need a Ph.D. in biology to explain asthma to your child. Dr. Kathy Sheerin, of the Atlanta Allergy Clinic, suggest using visuals and to keep your discussion specific to your child's age. For example:
  • Ages 2 - 3: Rub your chest to show them where their lungs are. Or use their favorite doll of stuffed friend, anything that will hold their attention

  • Ages 4 - 5: Older kids may appreciate a visual like a simple diagram of the human body that shows where the lungs are in the body.
Another good visual device that works with kids of all ages is a straw. You can have them blow through it to demonstrate how lungs work normally, and then pinch the straw slightly in the middle to make the passage way small, and ask them to blow again. Have your child hold her hand at the end of the straw to feel the difference between when the straw is and isn't pinched.

Magical Medicine

Taking asthma medication is no joke, but playtime is one of the best times to explain to your child why he needs it. As with explaining the mechanics of the illness, pretend play may make getting your kids to understand how medicine work a much easier task.

"If your child loves dolls or action figures, ask him to pretend that that toy is having an asthma attack," says Carlton. Ask, "What should the doll do?" and help him act out the solution using his inhaler and the breathing techniques recommended by his doctor.

A doll can also help in reinforcing the habit of using a peak flow meter. Hold it up to the doll's mouth and ask your child how hard the toy needs to blow.

Tell you kids that their inhaler contains a magic mist that will help them breath easier and feel better. Or you can tell her that her asthma meds are like sunscreen. Just like you put on sunscreen to avoid getting burned in the sun, asthma medications are taken to avoid having an asthma episode. Anything that can take the fear of the condition and the medicines used to treat it will be an advantage. And if your child is actively involved, all the better.

Jessica Brown

Important Disclaimer: This information is not meant as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a doctor with questions about your or your child's condition. does not recommend or endorse specific tests, products, procedures, opinions, or other information provided by any sponsors or other third parties. Please also see Terms of Use.
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