Parents’ perceptions can affect children’s health

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H

Can your own perceptions of your child’s health affect it?

Dr. Tracy Lieu, author of a study in the October 8, 2008, Pediatrics, thinks so.  She surveyed parents of 700 asthmatic children and found parents’ low expectations led to more poorly controlled asthma.

In a Science Daily interview, Dr. Lieu said:

Our findings suggest that parents’ expectations and perceptions are key factors influencing how well their children’s asthma is controlled, and how effectively they use medications.  … Raising parents’ expectations for how well their children can be doing with asthma may be one of the keys to reducing racial/ethnic disparities in asthma outcomes.

I was reminded of this study after reading Dr. J’s post on how a little dirt is not always bad.  We’re finding exposing our kids to a little outside activity helps their immune system recognize and remember what to fight.  Also, kids who have a pet at a young age may have a less chance of asthma.  Who’d a thunk?

Of course, kids do need guidance and limits.  I once had a mother bring in her 8-year-old with a cut that needed sutures.  She told me she would let her son make that decision because she let him make all his own decisions.  Hmmm.  Luckily, he decided to get the stitches.

Your child takes cues from you.  Don’t just be a constant nervous ninny. It takes some work and a lot of faith, but become a lay-expert on any of their health problems and get the treatment needed.  Take precautions for real dangers, but find positive, creative ways to circumvent their impairments.  Set reasonable expectations with plenty of praise.  It will usually make them happier and healthier.

What do you think?  How do you cope?

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11 Responses to “Parents’ perceptions can affect children’s health”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    Thanks so much for mentioning my recent post!

    I had asthma as a child. I received allergy treatments from age 4 till age 17. When I was to go off to college, I decided, since I felt OK, I would terminate the treatments, and have not had a problem since. I have mixed feelings about it all, but I know my parents were very concerned and did their best to provide help for me, and also never limited my activities to be active even with the asthma.

    Dr. Js last blog post..Allergy alert: The trouble with testing, a peanutty protest and dining out safely

  2. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Thanks Dr. J,

    It has to be really hard for parents to encourage normal activities while balancing safety concerns.

  3. Blake Says:

    Dang, I wish my asthma would go away! :) I think my parents did a good job with taking care of my asthma though. Sometimes hard exercise gets me all asthma-y ans sometimes animals. I was very active in sports when I was a kid and I still try to be the same now. I just have to make sure I have my “rescue” inhaler just in case something happens. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten it on some occasions and have had bad attacks (dogs and cats are killers for me!).

    I enjoyed Dr. J’s post too and I hope I can find a good balance of taking care of my kids and also letting them get a little dirty!

    Blakes last blog post..A Ridiculous Ticket and My Favorite Fruits and Veggies

  4. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    I’m sure you will, Blake. When I was a kid, the asthmatics were almost thought of as invalids. Now some of the best professional atheletes have it.
    It is still a serious, sometimes life-threatening disease as you know, but you are a good example of succeeding in spite of it.


  5. Tom Rooney Says:

    Dr. Hubbard,

    There is never a training manual for making sure that you care for your child in the right way. As we went through the diseases, cuts, scrapes and broken bones with raising three children we made sure that their health issues were always dealt with. I would say that we used the same manor that I guess our parents did with us. We let them try things, fail sometimes, succeed most, but allow them to build character along with their immune system. I don’t think I ever had a perception either lower or higher that made our medical decisions cost our children proper care. Makes one think back and wonder on difficult issues.

    Tom Rooneys last blog post..Secrets of a Successful Weight Loss Diet

  6. cathy Says:

    So true! It’s a fine line between giving your child the attention and sympathy he/she needs when sick and over-coddling them and making them think that they’re sick. I have to force myself to put on a poker face sometimes when my kids are sick or might have hurt themselves so that I can see what their true reaction is and not have them mimic my reaction. I absolutely think that my kids take cues from me as to how they should feel.

    cathys last blog post..Snack time! Another granola bar option AND a cookbook review

  7. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:


    I think all of us do the best we can, but can look back and grimace a bit. Love and and little common sense make up for a lot.

  8. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Cathy, I think most children take those cues.

  9. Sagan Says:

    Parents have such a huge influence over their kids so we’ve got to lead by example. It’s good to let kids make their own choices, but they need a lot of guidance at the same time.

    Sagans last blog post..Taking the “work” out of the workout

  10. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    They sure do Sagan.

  11. Mark Salinas Says:

    “Your child takes cues from you. Don’t just be a constant nervous ninny. It takes some work and a lot of faith, but become a lay-expert on any of their health problems and get the treatment needed. Take precautions for real dangers, but find positive, creative ways to circumvent their impairments. Set reasonable expectations with plenty of praise. It will usually make them happier and healthier.” I tend to agree! Thanks!

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