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Explaining COPD to Children.

Explaining COPD to Children

Explaining COPD to young children can be overwhelming.

If the children are very small..

like mine were, you know that they won’t fully understand, and the last thing that you want to do is scare them. However, talking about it around them will keep this from becoming that “big mystery no one ever talked about.”

If your children are older than five or six…

they may be able to comprehend the broad concepts of disease and difficulty breathing, but be careful not to overwhelm them with big medical terms.

For children that are in middle school and above…

they should be able to handle a more in depth conversation including what happens physically and what it actually means in terms of quality of life and the future.

My mom was in the hospital frequently when my son was little. He was only four years old when she left for heaven, and my daughter was a year and a half. There have been times that my son has asked why mom is not here anymore and why was she so sick. It is such a fine line in telling him because he has had a sensitive respiratory system since he was a baby. Of course, I am concerned that telling him too much about COPD would unnecessarily scare him about his own health.

One thing that we did well, for his age, was to let him be involved in as much as possible. He went to many doctor appointments. He would turn on and off the nebulizer (with supervision) for mom, and he was able to “help” push the concentrator when it needed to be moved. Just those few things, small as they may seem, made it all seem okay and normal to him. This was just how his maw maw came to visit, and to him it was okay.

I know that if he had been older, we would have needed to address things a little differently.

As I have thought about it, here are a few things that we were prepared for, but unfortunately did not have the need to do.

  1. Have the loved one with COPD talk to the child. Obviously, this would be even more important if the one with COPD is the parent. This will give the child a chance to hear from the person with the limitations.  When you do talk to the child about it, it will be very important to remain as calm as possible. Emotions may be high, and depending on the maturity level of the child, he or she may not know how to process what is being explained.
  2. Listen to the child’s concerns and allow him or her to ask questions. This is where you need to be prepared to feel uncomfortable, and it’s okay. Answer those questions to the best of your ability to match the maturity level, but don’t run from the questions.
  3. Allow the children to be involved in caring for the one with COPD. There are simple things that they can do. Kids are great at picking up or getting things. It may not seem like much, but that simple task can be a huge help to someone with COPD. Older children can help with equipment or meals, carrying bags and pushing a wheelchair.

One thing that I believe is very important, is that you don’t hide.

I know that my mom was very tempted to stay away and hope that the kids would just remember her without being sick, but I am so glad that she did not give in to that temptation. They remember her. They know that she was sick, but they remember how much she loved them. That is so much more important in the long term.

So my advice would be that you communicate.

It is important to communicate well with all of your loved ones, but it is especially important to the children. They will not necessarily know how to start a conversation, so it is important that you are willing to start it, and let them ask their questions.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • patt1013
    2 years ago

    Hi I am very glad to see something written regarding children and COPD as I am struggling with this.I have been raising my 12 yr old grand daughter since she was 4 yrs old. I was diagnosed with COPD apx 9 years ago and am now coming into the more severe problems with it.She knows that I get sick more often now and am more limited in things that I can do but I don`t know how much knowing is to much and when is the right time to address the end result of this disease? I worry that it might be to big of a burden for her to carry and it might cause harm to her emotional everyday living.

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    patti1013 – I applaud you and your caring attitude toward your granddaughter; she’s very fortunate to have you. You’re misgivings are so understandable and not uncommon. I’m sure you know her well enough to determine what she can understand and cope with at her age. No doubt being with you as long as she has gives her a good basis for empathizing and understanding quite a bit.

    I wish you the very best.

    Lyn (moderator)

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