Talking to Your Older Child About Acid Reflux

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

When your child has acid reflux, it can be really hard to tell when they have a flare up, especially when they are unable to articulate their symptoms. Some kids with acid reflux are so used to the symptoms that they don’t even think to mention them. But better communication with your child is essential in getting them the right treatment to keep their acid reflux under control.

Teaching terms

One of the best ways to make communicating with your older child easier is to teach them about their illness. Not only does it make talking with them easier, it also empowers them and makes their illness less scary. The Kid’s Health website has a wonderful description, as well as a video, describing one of the more common gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) tests. Be sure to monitor the websites they visit, because there’s a lot of misinformation online.

If you have a visual learner, things like flashcards, which you can make at home by printing terms from the Kid’s Health page, or a model of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract can often help explain the disease. You can also find some really descriptive videos online, like this one, but be sure to watch them first to judge if the content is age-appropriate for your child.

Describing symptoms

Often times children will not describe their symptoms in the same way as an adult. It is important to know some of the common ways children will describe their GERD.

Some of these descriptions might include:

  • They swallow small amounts of throw up in their mouth

  • They feel like throwing up

  • They have a sore throat or burning throat

  • They have a lump in their throat, or feel “strangled”

  • They have chest pain

  • They have a stomach ache

  • Foods hurt when they swallow them

  • They don’t want to eat because foods are hard to swallow

Every child will describe their pain differently, so it’s important to pay attention to any changes in their eating, sleeping, growth, or health and then to ask the right questions. Asking whether they have any of the previously listed symptoms can help you figure out whether acid reflux is the culprit.

Pain scale

A pain scale is an essential tool in determining how a child is really feeling. One of the best for little children involves the sad-to-happy face image. For older children, using numbers, with one being little-to-no pain and ten being the worst pain imaginable, can also be very useful. For example, my 11-year-old has migraines. When my husband asked her whether she was OK, she answered, “I’m fine.” When I asked her to give me a number on the pain scale, she said the pain was “about a three.” This provided me with better information in order to properly treat her pain.

Now that you have some tools to communicate with your child, it’s important to know that if your child is experiencing any pain during their treatment for acid reflux, then it’s time to contact the physician. Only your physician can properly evaluate the issue and make alterations to your child’s treatment plan. While many children get stomach bugs, it’s also important to note that if what you think is a stomach bug persists beyond a week, or if it comes and goes over a longer period of time, then it should be assessed by your child’s physician. With the proper tools, good communication, and appropriate treatment, your child’s acid reflux can be well managed and their pain and discomfort limited.

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.