Children's Hospital Colorado

Parent Toolkit: Keeping Up With Your Child's Medical Treatment

A smiling mom holds her baby close to her face.

Keeping up with medications, medical treatments, and doctors’ appointments can create day-to-day challenges. Working with the medical team, families can help children keep up with all of the things they need to do to stay healthy.

What challenges might my child face?

  • Finding time to fit in daily medications, complete medical treatments, and make it to medical appointments
  • Feeling frustrated or bothered by having to do treatments or go to appointments because it can get in the way of important things (like school, friends, family, and activities)
  • Not understanding medical treatment and how it can help them feel better and stay healthy
  • Feeling frustrated with side effects of treatment (like upset stomach or fatigue)

What can I do to help?

What strategies will work for your child and family will depend on your child’s age, comfort with medical care, and other differences of family life. Try a few, and stick with the ones that work best.

Get organized

  • Create a chart. A visual “roadmap” may help children and families plan out daily treatment needs. Younger children might benefit from a chart with photos depicting them doing the treatment and posted somewhere the family can easily see it, like the refrigerator. Adolescents might prefer a checklist or written chart kept somewhere private, like their room.
  • Stay on schedule. Children benefit from having a predictable, consistent schedule. It might help to write out the schedule and post it somewhere in the house. As children become more independent, they may be ready to take on managing their schedule.

Use a pillbox. Keeping your child’s pills organized using a pillbox can help children become more independent with taking their medications. Think of developmentally appropriate ways to involve your child, such as helping fill the pillbox each week or counting out the pills needed.

Use reminders. Set daily alarms or post notes on the refrigerator or in your child’s bedroom. As children get older, they might be ready to take on setting up and responding to reminders and alarms. Teens may prefer to use an app (see below for suggestions).

  • Organize your home. If your child has to take medication in the morning, putting his or her medications in the bathroom—where most children go first thing — might help your child remember. If your child has a treatment he or she is uncomfortable completing this treatment in front of others, try placing the equipment in a quiet, private room.

Deal with behaviors that get in the way

  • Supervise. Supervision is an opportunity to remind, guide, and to help your child do the treatment correctly. It also lets your child know that together you work as a team.
  • Increase independence over time. Younger children need lots of supervision and assistance, while older children benefit from more independence, which builds confidence and self-esteem. As they become more successful with smaller tasks, allow more responsibility.
  • Use a “First, Then” approach. Have your child complete a medical treatment first, and then allow an enjoyable activity as a reward. Older children can reward themselves by setting goals such as taking evening medications before calling a friend on the phone.
  • Reward positive behavior. Sometimes just saying “Great job taking your pills today!” goes a long way. Younger children may appreciate a sticker on a chart, while older children could earn a privilege or spend more time with friends.
  • Connect treatments with other routines. Encourage your child to complete medical treatments at the same time every day, paired with other daily routines, such as brushing teeth or eating a meal.
  • Break it down. Breaking treatments into small steps is important for younger children, especially when treatment is complex. Consider writing the steps down for your child, or using pictures to represent them. Ask your child to repeat the steps to make sure he or she understands each one.
  • Avoid “nagging.” Any kind of attention — even negative attention — can reinforce a behavior. Instead of nagging, complement your child for positive behaviors, even small ones, like listening, or doing chores or taking medications. Positive attention motivates positive behaviors.
  • Keep consistent limits, rules, and expectations. Even though it can feel very difficult to set limits and consequences when your child is ill, consistency will help keep their behavior on track.
  • Create a balance. Make sure you and your child have time to have fun doing enjoyable activities, staying connected with friends, and spending time as a family in ways not focused on medical treatment.
  • Get extra support. Caregivers need support from family, friends, and community. If your child is struggling with emotional or behavioral difficulties that affect his or her ability to keep up with treatments, consider working with a psychologist or other mental health provider. Talk to your child’s medical team about how to get connected with these types of professionals.

Keep it simple

  • Use language that your child can understand. For younger children, picture books or stories can help explain medical diagnosis and treatment. Children will be able to better understand medical terms as they get older and more independent with their care.
  • Understand the purpose of medications, treatments, and doctor’s appointments. Children are more likely to follow through with medical recommendations if they understand why they have to do them. Check in often with your medical team, and as your child gets older, encourage asking questions independently.
  • Emphasize the importance. It can help to remind your child of the benefits of keeping up with treatments: the healthier he or she can be, the more time he or she will get to spend with friends and do fun activities, and the less likely he or she is to have extra medical appointments or hospital admissions.

Additional resources

These apps can help with keeping up on treatments:

Family Resource Assistance

Our Family Resource Liaisons are master’s level clinicians who are available to help individuals and families navigate the mental healthcare system by providing contact information for mental health resources in your community.

Family Resource Liaisons are available by phone at 720-777-4978, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Check out our Parent Toolkit to get more resources for maximizing your child’s health.

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