Helping a 6 year old to buy into his own treatment

One of the more challenging parenting experiences I’ve had in years has been the process of helping my son to accept and support our efforts to treat his Lyme disease. He dislikes medicine (in general) and especially dislikes medicine that has a bad aftertaste (as his Ceftin does). As a result, we have in the past given him a lot of leeway about taking optional medications such as cough medicine, and he has rarely taken anything for more than a few days. But for his treatment to be successful, he currently has to take two doses of antibiotics each morning and one each evening, along with probiotics at lunch time (I can’t give him an evening dose without waking him up, so I’m hoping the lunchtime dose will suffice). Additionally, he has to do this for weeks to months, so he has to do it willingly as I can’t possibly force him or bribe him to do it twice a day for an unknown length of time.

The good news is we got there, he is doing a great job of it. I still have some big hurdles to get past with him (we haven’t even discussed the need for monthly blood work for example, something that causes him to vomit each time we do it and is hugely emotionally trying). But the medicine he takes, in a routine fashion, without fail.

I am sure that many others have traveled this path before with their children, but for those who are just starting out, I thought it might be helpful to relate our experiences. We did a couple of key things, spread out over the course of about 2-3 weeks (some right before we started the meds but most after).

A bunch of things we did involved laying down the groundwork for understanding illness and medication’s role in illness

  • We let him know why we were asking him to take medication (he has an infection, called Lyme disease, just like Mommy did. Just like Mommy, he needs to take medicine to get better), in an age-appropriate way. It took a couple of discussions before we discovered every misunderstanding he had and cleared them all up (e.g., at one point he thought that all infections were called Lyme disease) but eventually he understood everything he needed to
  • We explained to him how we thought taking the medicine would help him, in terms of specific symptoms that we think may improve
  • We talked about good bacteria and bad bacteria and why he needs pro-biotics as well as anti-biotics
  • We answered any other questions as they came up. He’s smart and curious, and at one point I actually found myself showing him pictures of antibodies on Wikipedia (we’d been talking about how important a strong immune system is)
  • We let him know that this medicine was never, under any circumstances, optional

The other set of things we did involved helping him get in touch with and master his feelings around taking the meds

  • We acknowledged his dislike of the medication and that this was REALLY HARD. We told stories about times we’d had it just as hard (“Really, Mommy?!”) and let him cry as much as he needed. We told him how much we love him. We also told him that he had to be strong even though it was hard. Having to tell my children to be strong in the face of something I never wanted them to face is one of the hardest parts of this. For my daughter, it was my forced weaning of her, for my son, this medicine.
  • We told him how proud we were each and every time he took it for a couple of weeks. If he had trouble taking it, we told him we were even prouder because it had been harder that time. One night after he’d moved from a really really hard day to a progressively better one, right after I tucked him in, I told him I just wanted him to know how proud I was of him for improving things. He must have needed it because he somehow managed to squeeze in three separate sets of “thank you”s before I made it downstairs in the last few minutes of bed time. I was so grateful for that feedback because it told me I was on the right track!
  • We helped him construct a routine around taking the medicine, allowed him to experiment with different variations (treats afterwards, mixing it with different foods, etc.), made suggestions where we could, tried not to get frustrated when some of all of our ideas failed, and did our best to help him stick to the routine once he found it. Now that he’s done, it takes about 2 minutes total for him to pull together the inner strength he needs to down a dose. He gathers ice water, the medicine, and Mommy’s hand to hold. We add a little water to the medicine so it will go down quick and easy. We set the oven timer for about 1 minute. Sometimes Daddy gets ready with his medicine to take at the same time. Then we wait until my son is ready, and when he is it goes down so quick I can hardly believe it. Voluminous verbal praise usually follows (and will as long as he needs it). Then it’s on with the day.

One thing I’ve had to do in all of this is put my own doubts aside. It was hard enough to choose experimental treatments for myself, but it was me, and I was desperately sick. It’s even harder with a son who’s doing relatively well and it’s my son. But I can’t help him by talking about any of that. So for now, I just tell him what I hope is true about all of this. And we have a routine that works and we will get through this month. Next month, who knows. The doctor could change the medication, there’s the blood draw to get through, nothing is for sure. But if we can do it once, I guess we’ll find a way to do it again. All I know is that I am incredibly proud of my son for persevering and finding a way to make this work!

2 thoughts on “Helping a 6 year old to buy into his own treatment

  1. Having had Lyme Disease and for now well recovered my heart goes out to any parent trying to struggle through this with their children.

    This post is excellent and I will keep a note of it because occassionally a desperate parent posts on Eurolyme a chat line and I am sure this would be helpful to them.

    Best wishes to you and all your family in beating this formidable bug.

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