Talking to Your Child about Reflux Symptoms
The mother of a 9 year old girl with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) sent me the following email: “My daughter has become very sensitive about her reflux and won’t tell me when she is suffering from it. I see her gulping and clearing her throat after meals on a daily basis but she denies it. How can I help her feel comfortable talking about her symptoms with me?” As the mother of two children with GERD, I know how important it is to monitor their symptoms and adjust their home treatment. In addition, I know the Pediatric Gastroenterologist is counting on me to monitor their symptoms at home and call as needed for assistance. Like the mother of the 9 year old, I have had my share of challenges communicating with my children about their symptoms.
Assessing their Understanding of GERD
As you talk with your child about her symptoms, you can gain information about her understanding of GERD. Some children ask a lot of questions while others seem to be very reluctant to talk. It is a good idea to ask her to explain what reflux is and help her find age appropriate words to describe it.
My kids are typically chatty and eager to talk at home but become very quiet in the doctors office. I often ask them questions about the doctor as we are driving to the appointment. I review the reason for the appointment and try to engage them in a conversation to find out their questions and concerns so we can develop a plan for the appointment. Often they want me to ask a question for them or I will start explaining their concern and ask them to clarify the information in their own words. I think it is really important for my kids to learn to talk to the doctor and share their concerns. With a chronic condition like reflux, they will need to be skilled at advocating for themselves and partnering with their doctor for the best outcome. It is just one of many important life skills I can teach my children.
Checking Out their Secret Concerns
Some children have fears about GERD because we are concerned about it. They see the worried look on our faces as we talk to the doctor or overhear a phone conversation with Grandma. Some children have secret concerns and worry that they have a serious condition or they will need an operation or die. Other children try to hide their symptoms because they don’t want to go to the doctor or have a test. It will take a bit of creativity and detective work to allow your child to reveal her secret concerns to you. You may need to ask open ended questions and check your reactions to her comments and concerns. If you show her that it is safe to share her thoughts, she will be more likely to talk to you. Once you know her concerns, you can offer reassurance and clarification. It is important to tell her that she didn’t cause reflux and that Mommy and Daddy are working with the doctor to make it better.
It is common for children to develop their own names for symptoms. Some children say that reflux feels like something is stuck in their throat or describe a yucky taste in their mouth. Be aware of their lingo and use it to track symptoms. Instead of asking, “How was your reflux today?” you could say, “Did it feel yucky in your mouth after lunch?”
You can use their assessment of daily symptoms to determine if the treatment is working. In my household, there is no shortage of data. Instead of exclaiming what a good dinner I just served, one kid usually announces, “I just threw up in my throat!” then the other kid belches and says, “I just refluxed!” In the end, I usually end up throwing up my hands and saying, “Too-much-in-for-ma-tion!”
In my next blog, I will share some ideas for using drawing, coloring, photography and journaling to help children communicate their symptoms to parents, physicians and friends.