How to involve your child in their health care

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Children and teens are often interested in being included in discussions about their health care. Talk to them open and honestly about their condition.

Key points

  • Start talking to your child as early as possible about their condition, in words that they understand.
  • Ask your child what they already know or would like to find out.
  • Check back with your child about how much they want to be involved in their health care. All children have a right to be involved, but some might not want this.
  • Be open and honest with your child. This will help build trust and avoid any "surprises" later on.
  • Work with your child and your child's health-care team to make decisions about health care.

​​From an early age, children start thinking about how their bodies work and usually have lots of questions. These questions may get more complicated when a child gets older and can better express themselves. Sometimes, though, a child's questions might reveal how little they really understand about their condition or treatment.

Talking regularly to your child about their health can help ease any fears and allow them share any concerns. It can also help make sure that they understand their treatment and why they need it.

Start early

Children and teens believe that they need to be included in health care discussions from a young age. Talk to your child about any health condition as early as possible. Even young children (toddlers and pre-schoolers) need a chance to understand what is going on and share their thoughts.

Check what they already know or want to find out

Your child's age and life experience will naturally affect how much they understand about their health. If they have an illness, check what they already know about it and ask them if they want to learn more.

"Check in" often

If your child is getting treatment, have regular talks to find out how involved they want to be in their care. Children have a right to take part in conversations with their doctor about their health, but not all children might want this or be old enough for it. Sometimes children will change their mind during treatment. For instance, older children and teens might want to start having a more active role by meeting their health-care team on their own now and then.

Giving your child some options will help them feel more in control of what is happening to them.

Be open and honest

If your child has a complex health condition, talk to them about it openly and honestly, in words they understand. At the same time, don't overload your child with information, as this might confuse or scare them. It may also be important to repeat information now and again to make sure your child understands what is happening.

When a child knows about their health, they are more likely to trust the adults who are caring for them. By talking to your child, you will also prevent any upsetting "surprises" down the road.

Help distract your child during tests

Medical procedures such as tests or needles can often be unpleasant for children. Consider giving them a choice of activities to distract their attention. This will help them cope better with any fear or pain.

Young children might like reading a story or playing games, while older children may prefer listening to music or using some distraction and relaxation techniques.

Work with your child's health-care team

Children and teens rely heavily on parents and health professionals to help them make decisions about their health care. Research shows that things turn out better for everyone when families, doctors and patients work together.

Last updated: December 19th 2012