As well as making sure that your child gets the right medical care, there are other ways to support them.
Listen to your child
Encourage your child to tell you how they feel. Young children may not be able to describe how they feel in the way that you would. As adults, we can compare how we feel when we are well with how we feel when we are ill. Children can’t always do that so you need to listen carefully to what they say to try to work out how they are feeling. If your child is young, you could get them to try and describe their feelings by drawing a picture – for example, using happy or sad faces to show how they feel.
Try to look out for any changes in how they feel. Encourage them to recognise when they feel better as well as when they are ill. This can help you to notice if they are becoming ill again.
It’s really useful to keep a diary. You can record things like how your child felt, what they ate, how they slept and what they did. You can also write down things that they say to describe how they feel. It can help you to spot any changes in how they feel and are a useful record to show to your doctor.
It isn’t common, but some children can get depressed as a side effect of their condition. If you think that your child is depressed, speak to your GP or paediatrician.
Keep things in perspective
It’s important to take your child’s thyroid condition seriously, but you need to keep things in perspective. Having a thyroid condition shouldn’t stop your child from leading a normal and active life. Encourage them to accept their condition and learn to live with it. As long as your child takes their medication and follows their doctor’s advice, there is no reason why your child cannot live as other children.
Look out for other illnesses
It can be easy to think that every time your child feels unwell, it is because of their thyroid condition. Your child will still get common illnesses like colds and infections. They may also get other illnesses or conditions. It is important not to become too focused on your child’s thyroid condition because you could miss other problems that may be unrelated. This is where a diary can be useful because it can help you to spot any new or unusual symptoms. And children who have other disorders can also have a thyroid disorder.
Some changes in your child may be because they are getting older – for example, mood swings may be down to normal teenage hormones!
You should tell your child’s school about their thyroid condition. Your child’s teachers need to be aware that it may affect their concentration, behaviour and ability to learn.
Your child’s academic performance may sometimes be affected by their condition. Your child may need extra support in catching up with schoolwork when they have missed school through illness or because of doctors’ appointments. If your child has to sit exams, their school may be able to make arrangements to support them – for example, they may be able to have rest breaks. You will need to organise this with the school well before the exam. If your child has taken exams while they were ill but before they were diagnosed, you can discuss their options with the school. It may be possible to apply to the awarding body for special considerations to be taken into account. Alternatively, your child may be able to re-sit the exams when they are better.
Some children might be comfortable telling their friends and classmates that they have a thyroid condition. Others might not want to tell anyone – particularly at first when they are just getting used to it. Some children can get very upset if the word ‘thyroid’ is even mentioned as they don’t want to be different in any way. Try and keep your discussions sympathetic and low key when you talk to your child. Your child’s teachers need to know if your child would prefer that none of their peers know about their condition.
On school trips, your child may need to take medication with them. The teachers will need to know that your child is taking medication and should be able to help your child to take it if necessary.
Whatever their thyroid condition, your child will have to have regular blood tests. If done properly, taking blood shouldn’t hurt too much. However, understandably, many children still don’t like blood tests! They may be afraid of needles or, in more extreme cases, develop needle phobia. Here are some ways that you can help them to cope:
- Suggest they don’t look at the needle.
- Get them to breathe in and out deeply and slowly.
- Make sure that the nurses give them enough time to feel comfortable.
- Give the child some control over the situation by encouraging them to say ‘Yes’ or ‘Ready’ when they are ready for the nurse to take blood.
- Try counting – for example, ‘It will be over by the time we count to ten.’ Remember to count slowly.
- Keep the hand or arm warm as warm veins are closer to the surface and easier to access.
- Get some EMLA cream and Tegaderm plasters from the hospital.
- Promise them a treat afterwards.
Help them to take responsibility
As your child gets older, encourage them to become responsible for taking their own medication and, once at the appropriate age, getting their own prescriptions and medications. They will need to know how to do this when they grow up and move away from home. Before they live independently, they need to be able to take their medication without prompting and understand the importance of seeing a doctor if they feel unwell as well as for regular check-ups.