Talking to Kids About Health-y Things

Alt: A kid doodle sits on an exam table with their arm in a cast. A doctor doodle says, “…and you’ll be good as new. In the meantime you can pinch your brother with your OTHER hand!”

Here at We ❤ Health Literacy Headquarters, we believe that everyone deserves health information that’s easy to understand. And everyone means everyone — including kids. But how do you communicate complicated health information to young audiences?

Depending on the child’s age, a good old-fashioned chat may work better than written materials. So today, we’re sharing tips for talking to kids about health. And just like when talking to older adults, the best approach is to be clear, not patronizing.

When you talk to kids about their health — or a family member’s — follow these tips to help them understand:

  • Use developmentally appropriate terms — not baby talk. There’s a happy medium between “Pop Pop got a booboo in his brainsy wainsy” and “Young sir, your grandfather has suffered a ruptured cerebral aneurysm.” We bet you can find it!
  • Tell the truth. When children ask hard questions, you might be tempted to feed them soft answers. But don’t let protective urges lead to outright lies. If someone in the family has an incurable illness, telling a child that the doctor will make it all better will only make them feel betrayed in the long run.
  • Set clear expectations. Unknowns are scary! So if you have to say something alarming like “you’ll be in a cast for the next 6 weeks,” follow it up with something reassuring like “you can still annoy your brother with your other arm.“
  • Keep the conversation going. No one likes a long-winded medical lecture, and kids absorb information better in lots of little doses. So make sure they know who to ask if they have more questions — or if they just need someone to talk to about all the info you’ve shared.

The bottom line: Be clear and honest when communicating with kids about health issues.

Tweet about it: Honesty is the best policy when communicating with kids about health issues. @CommunicateHlth shares tips to communicate with younger audiences: #HealthLit


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