Teaching Your Preschooler About Cystic Fibrosis
by Lisa C. Greene and Kirsten Black, MS
The way that preschoolers think and process information is very different from adults. Their emotions can affect their ability to think and understand. The Preschool Thinker* is:
- Magical- Unable to explain how things happen in a logical, step-by-step process.
- Perceptual- Dominated by what he sees, hears, feels or smells.
- Egocentric- Able to see the world from his point of view only.
- Immediate- Focused on the present only.
- Absolute- Tends to see everything in extremes; sees few relationships.
Things you can do with preschoolers to help them learn about CF:
- Read children's books together about the body in general and about CF care.
- Watch videos together about the body in general and CF care (see www.TipsForCFParents.com for links to child-friendly CF video clips).
- Teach basic outer body parts including tummy, chest, arms, legs, etc. Four- and five-year-olds can start to learn about internal organs like lungs, heart, stomach, intestines. Provide simple descriptions and make the explanation relevant to experiences the child can feel/see/touch. Example: Have the child blow up a balloon, then let them feel the air rush out of the balloon. Explain that the lungs are like balloons inside our body that take in fresh air (blowing up the balloon) and then trade it for used air (the air escaping from the balloon).
- Allow your child to participate in CF care in little ways with your help. Some ideas: Push buttons on machines, put on vest and clip the buckles, pick out foods from two choices, help hold mask during treatments, sprinkle opened up enzymes on applesauce, help count out enzymes and pills, squirt hypertonic saline into nebulizer cups.
- Teach basic words for CF care. Slang is okay for now; we used "breathers" and "thumpers" until our kids were in elementary school.
- Help your child learn to label basic emotions like: happy, sad, mad, and scared.
- Help your child learn the words to describe what his or her body feels like: "My tummy hurts", "It hurts here", "I am hungry", "I am tired", etc.
- Engage your child in play activities around CF care and the body: playing doctor with dolls and stuffed animals, drawing pictures, using clay and creating artwork, making up silly songs about CF care, etc.
- Use the magical thinking to encourage a positive attitude towards treatments: put a cape on the vest to encourage being a “Mucus Fighter”, make up stories about the magical powers of the treatments/medications, etc.
As you teach your preschooler about the body and CF, remember that each child is different in ability and pace of development. The key is to be patient, friendly, fun and positive. Your young child will take your lead about how he sees himself, the world and CF.
Lisa C. Greene is the mother of two children with cystic fibrosis, a certified parent coach and public speaker. She is also the co-author with Foster Cline MD of the award-winning Love and Logic book “Parenting Children with Health Issues.” For more information, see www.PCWHI.com. Kirsten Black, MS, CCLS is a certified child life specialist with over 14 years of experience working with patients with Cystic Fibrosis and families in various settings.
For more Tips for CF Parents, visit Lisa’s website at www.TipsForCFParents.com.
Copyright by Lisa C. Greene. All Rights Reserved.
*The segment on the Preschool Thinker is from "Teach Your Child About Hemophilia" by Laureen Kelley