Meeting the Challenges
We started this chapter with a discussion of the unique challenges facing children who experience thyroid disease. Although thyroid disease can be more complex and difficult in kids, parents who are vigilant can steer their children toward proper diagnosis and treatment and a lifetime of routine monitoring and adherence to medications. The key — as with any parental task — is to be consistent and persistent. Here are some ways to help your child cope with thyroid disease:
Let's face it: No one really likes to take medication. It's one more thing to remember, and children simply don't want to be bothered. But if your child has hypothyroidism — or any other condition for that matter — that requires taking a pill regularly, compliance is essential to her health. Not taking your daily pill is simply not an option. Here are some ways to make sure your child takes her pill:
Discuss the importance of taking the medication in age-appropriate ways that your child will understand.
Place the pill in a colorful container with the days of the week marked.
Ask your child to mark an x on the calendar each day she takes her pill.
If your child has trouble swallowing pills, consider crushing her pill and incorporating it into food. But some pills cannot be crushed and must be taken whole. Check with your doctor or pharmacist first.
Get in the habit of taking the pill at the same time every day and in the same way. The repetition will reinforce the habit.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
Breaking the news to your child that she is sick is painful for any parent, especially if the illness is life-threatening. But trying to shield her from the truth about her medical condition won't help. Without knowing the truth, your child may resort to her imagination, which will only stoke her fears. And chances are, your child already knows that something is going on if she's going to the doctor more frequently and can see the anxious expressions on her parents' faces.
What you say, how you say it, and when you choose to divulge your child's illness is up to you. You know your child best. But whatever you do or say should be age appropriate. For instance, a five-year-old is not apt to understand that thyroid cancer is potentially deadly, so you may not need to even discuss that aspect of the disease. But a teenager is usually well aware that cancer can be fatal, so you may need to discuss the survival rates associated with thyroid cancer.
Chances are, if you're reading this book, you either have thyroid disease or have a family member who does. Knowing that thyroid problems are in your family should make you more vigilant about these disorders in your children. As we noted early on, children aren't always aware that they're anxious, nervous, or sluggish. They don't always notice that they've become sensitive to cold or heat or that their skin is unusually dry or moist. And the impact of thyroid disease on your child's growth isn't always immediately apparent (which is why you should keep track of your child's height and weight).
That's why it's important to be vigilant and to pay attention to your child's health. Don't be afraid to prod your child for more details about how she is feeling, especially if she doesn't seem to be acting right. Report anything suspicious to your pediatrician. And be sure to tell your child's doctor if you do have a family history of thyroid disease. Simple details and information can go a long way toward a quick and accurate diagnosis.