I recently had the nice experience of my daughter’s six-year-old cousin asking me questions about her condition. He wanted to know if our new baby had to do the things that her sister does (like taking enzymes and wearing The Vest). When I told him she doesn’t, he wondered why. After all, it makes sense to him that if one sister has to do something than the other should too. So I got to explain what makes Maggie different from him and from her little sister too. I told him the very basic information about cystic fibrosis. All I had to say was that her lungs are different and we have to help them get the germs out. He was satisfied (for now) with that answer.
A young child’s questions are innocent and well intentioned. Young children usually don’t notice small differences, but will pick up on the big differences like my nephew did since he has watched Maggie do PT on numerous occasions. When a sibling, a cousin or a friend asks you about your child’s special need, you should encourage their curiosity.
Answer with Age-Appropriate Words
When answering the questions of a young child, make sure you put it into words they can understand and words that won’t scare them. Keep it simple and let them know that everything is okay. Thank them for their interest.
Let Them Help
If he is old enough, you can let him help with the child’s treatment or even test it out for himself. When watching Maggie do PT, her cousin wondered if it hurt her, so we did some PT on him. He felt better knowing what it was like. Now that she has The Vest, he has leaned up against it to see what the shaking and vibrating feels like.
Find Unique Ways to Explain the Condition
Sometimes, the best way to explain something to a child is to show them. For example, when the time comes to really tell her cousins and siblings what CF is, we can show them with a science experiment I found online from another CF mom. Simply make one glass of lemonade using powdered lemonade and water and that acts as the “normal lung mucus”. Then make a glass with powdered lemonade, but hardly any water and that will act as the CF lung mucus. This will show the kids the difference between their lungs and Maggie’s. It will help them understand why we have to “shake” her lungs.