Talking to Your Child about Acid Reflux Symptoms Part II: Use Drawing and Art
Adults often comment about how difficult it is for them to communicate their acid reflux symptoms and concerns to the doctor. Imagine how intimidating it must be for a child. Children with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) often have a difficult time communicating with the adults in their lives about their GERD symptoms, even their parents. That's why it may be more helpful to ask a child to talk about their symptoms in a different way, such as through pictures and drawing.
Children Not Always Honest About GERD Symptoms
It is likely that children will need to communicate primarily with their caretakers (parents, child care providers) and to a lesser degree the doctor and school nurse. GERD symptoms often occur daily or weekly with varying intensity and severity. It is very important for parents to know about GERD symptoms so they can track them and report trends and changes to the doctor.
Some children are very forthright and communicate their GERD symptoms frequently. Other children (like my mine) give a non specific answer.
The conversation may go like this:
Parent: "How are you feeling today?"
Other children try to hide their symptoms to prevent their caretakers from becoming concerned, especially if you often look anxious or alarmed by their comments. If you react to your child's reported GERD symptoms by restricting activity or running to the phone to schedule a doctor appointment, your child may be reluctant to report symptoms in the future. Other times, a child may be so accustomed to daily acid reflux symptoms and pain that it doesn't even seem important enough to mention.
Try Drawing and Coloring
Parents are certainly encouraged to talk to their children about GERD symptoms using age appropriate questions and terminology. In addition, coloring and drawing are highly effective ways to find out more about acid reflux symptoms.
Tip: I always take a pad of paper and markers or crayons to the doctor's office and hospital. You never know where the drawing will take you. Once I forgot to bring our art supplies so we used a pen from my purse and the roll of paper on the examination table.
Each year, TAP Pharmaceuticals Inc. sponsors a National Drawing and Coloring Contest for Tummy Aches and publishes a wonderful calendar, The Art of GERDTM Kids Create. Parents Relate. The young artists convey powerful messages about what reflux feels like.
One little girl drew a picture of a very sad looking butterfly trapped in a jar while all of the other butterflies were happily and freely flying in the sun. Another picture showed a stomach filled with bees flying around. The caption read, "A stomach ache is worse than butterflies in your stomach. It's more like a beehive." Other pictures showed volcanoes, fire, and sadness.
At any age, children should be encouraged to draw a picture of what acid reflux feels like. A young child may want you to write a title for the picture or label the drawing. An older child may be encouraged to finish a sentence such as, "My reflux feels like..." The picture may lead to a conversation about acid reflux with your encouragement. It is important to ask open ended questions such as, "Tell me about your picture." and clarifiying questions such as, "The girl is crying. I wonder why she is sad." Sometimes commenting is all that is needed to encourage your child to share her feelings. Remember that commenting is just noticing something (I see she is in bed.) and does not offer opinions or your interpretation of what the picture shows. It may help to comment and then wait. Your child may need some extra time to process what you are saying and think of a comment or answer. The extra waiting may give your child the courage to bring up a sensitive topic or tell you their concerns and questions.
When Rebecca was in preschool, she expressed concern that her dad would not know her medication schedule while I was away for a rare overnight trip. She decided that she needed to make a medication chart. With my help, she gathered up all of her medication bottles, inhalers and medication syringes and got to work. Before long, she had produced a very accurate picture of all of her medications and mounted it on the refrigerator for handy reference. A few weeks later, the doctor asked me what medications Rebecca was taking and we unrolled her medication picture. The doctor was very impressed and the two of them had a talk about her medications. It was clear to the doctor that she was complying with the medication schedule!
Keep in mind, coloring and drawing offers children the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of reflux, express their feelings and communicate with their caretakers about reflux. Parents can use drawing and coloring to open the channels of communication and offer clarification and reassurance. In addition, doctors, teachers and relatives may have a better understanding of what reflux feels like.
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