Epilepsy & Children (2-4 years)

Epilepsy can be a very difficult issue to explain to a young child.It is the responsibility of us as parents to try and make the process of medication and explanation as easy as possible for our epileptic child to understand and deal with.

How do I tell my child about his seizures?

During the preschool years, children are learning labels associated with experiences.  It is very important to provide your child with a label for his/her seizures.  Children with generalised seizure are unaware that a seizure is occurring, but are aware afterwards that something has happened.  They may be confused following a generalised tonic clonic seizure, have dropped things during a myoclonic jerks, or missed something during an absence seizure.  Giving the event a name related to how the child feels as he/she regains awareness helps them to understand that something has occurred (“a sleepy”, “a jumpy arm”).  The child learns to associate the name with the consequence of the event.

Children who have simple or complex partial seizures may be more aware of what is occurring during the event. Parents and children often use names that describe these feelings or actions (“dizziness,” “shakies”, “they scared”). This helps the parent and child communicate about what is occurring.  Using these concrete references to the child’s experience is helpful early in the pre-school years.

As your child grows, it will be important to let him/her know that they have seizures that are responsible for these events.  Between 3 and 4, you can start to associate the word seizure with the child’s terms of events (“You had a sleepy seizure.  You had a dizzy seizure.)  Parents can gradually progress to referring to the events only as seizures.  As this term grows in meaning, the child learns to use it as well.

As your child progresses into the 3-4 year age range, they can begin to understand more about seizures.

How do I explain to my child why they need treatment for seizures?

Giving seizures a label makes it possible to talk about the treatment.  A child at this age can understand:” You take medication for your seizures”. Children are also learning about minor body parts.  A child with epilepsy needs to be introduced to three important body parts.  They need to know that he/she has a “tummy” or “stomach” where the food and the medicine goes. Teach your child that the blood moves around his body “soaks up” food and medicine from his/her tummy/stomach and takes it to all the parts of their bodies.  Teach the child that blood takes medicine to the brain.  Finally, that the brain makes our bodies work and that it also makes seizures happen.

Once your child has learned these important body parts, you can start to explain how epilepsy is treated. 3 year olds need to know that medicine helps his/her seizures (using the child’s term for the seizures).  The 4-5 year old can understand that the medication goes to the tummy, gets soaked up by the blood and is carried to the brain to help the seizures.  The 3 year old needs to know that “pokes” (blood tests) tell the doctor how the medicine is working.  The 4-5 year old can understand that blood tests show the doctor “how much medicine you have soaked up”.  The 3 year old can understand that the EEG tells the doctor “how the brain is working”.  The 4-5 year old can begin to understand that seizures happen when the brain makes “too much electricity” and that the EEG is checking “the electricity in your brain”.

How can I help my child through medical treatment?

Children master events in their life, including medical treatment, through their play.  Your child will be visiting the doctor more often than most children of the same age.  A toy medical kit is a good investment.  This allows your child to give “pokes’ to their dolls/teddy bears or action figures, check their reflexes, and listen to their hearts.  You can make electrodes for your child to use EEG’s on their toys by attaching buttons to strings and allowing them to use tape to attach them to the stuffed animals.

You can use the same play materials to practice medical procedures with your child.  When your neurologist order a medical procedure, ask what will be involved for the child.  While playing with your child you will learn what they are thinking and feeling e.g. make a tunnel with blocks and practice having a stuffed animal slide into the tunnel, lie very still, have a brain picture taken, and than slide out.

Children in this age group also master events in their life through story books.  For the 2-3 year old child, make sure that the book has only one sentence per page.  For the 3-5 year old, attention has grown so that the child can stay involved with stories that have three to four sentences per page.  Once you have a book, read it to your child a number of times.  As children needs repetition to gain mastery.

THE INFORMATION WAS SUPPLIED TO BY EPILEPSY SOUTH AFRICA.  THEY MAY BE CONTACTED ON SHARE CALL NUMBER: 0860 EPILEPSY (0860 374537) OR http://www.epilepsy.org.za

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