Talking to Kids About Their Heart Health

Healthy Heart|Mar.20, 2019

You want the best for your kids — especially when it comes to their heart health.

While talking to your kids about reducing their chances of heart disease isn't the easiest conversation to have — particularly if your child has a heart condition or an elevated risk for it — it's important.

But having vital conversations about staying healthy helps ensure your young ones make smarter decisions as they grow. Arming yourself with helpful information can make the chat much easier.

Common Heart Health Conditions

When it comes to kid's health, children are not immune to certain conditions affecting heart function. According to the American Heart Association, these include:

  • Arrhythmia: An irregular heartbeat that can cause chest pains, dizziness, shortness of breath and weakness.
  • Cardiomyopathy: Occurs when the heart muscle becomes inflamed, often leading to chest pain, dizziness, fatigue, stomach bloat and leg or arm swelling.
  • Congenital heart defect: A heart defect developed before birth, such as a hole in the heart, leaky valve or flawed vessel.
  • 22q11.2 deletion disorders: A genetic issue in chromosome 22 that can lead to heart defects.
  • Heart failure: A condition where the heart doesn't pump blood properly.
  • Heart murmur: An atypical sound made by the heart, caused by flawed heart valves or holes in the heart walls.
  • High blood pressure: A condition that often has no outward symptoms but can cause serious health effects.
  • Kawasaki disease: A condition more common in people with Japanese and Korean ancestry, though it can affect people of all ethnicities, causing inflamed blood vessel walls.
  • Rheumatic fever: Occurs when strep throat or scarlet fever are not treated properly and can scar heart valves, making blood pumping more difficult.
  • Stroke: Occurs when a part of the brain is cut off from its blood supply and results in brain damage.

Tips for Discussing Heart Health

When talking to your child, it's important to be open with them about their condition or their risk of heart disease. That being said, you can make the conversation a positive and empowering one.

1. Pick an appropriate time

The American Heart Association says a productive discussion starts with choosing a time when your child will be most receptive. For some families, this may mean going for a leisurely walk after dinner, while for others the conversation might be over breakfast or during the ride to school.

2. Don't let it be a one-time conversation

Have your goal in mind, whether that's telling your child they have high blood pressure or letting them know heart disease runs in the family. Go into the conversation realizing this will be the first of many talks as you guide your child toward a heart health focused lifestyle.

3. Choose your words wisely

Dr. Paula A. Johnson, Harvard professor of cardiology, says in Harvard Health Publishing that it's important to tailor your words based on your child's age. If your children are very young, offer simple facts and offer answers to questions. You'll want to do your research pre-chat.

If your children are in their teens, focus on providing information in a reassuring way and avoid frightening them.

Additionally, if your child is an adult, they'll still need your support. Help them connect with a trusted primary physician and make healthy lifestyle adjustments.

4. Focus on prevention

Dr. Johnson notes that when discussing heart health with your kid, the main focus should be on prevention. Even if they already have a heart condition, you can map out ways to prevent the problem from getting worse or leading to other issues.

You can help your child with lifestyle adjustments to help them reduce their risk and fend off heart disease across the board. Talk to them about the importance of a healthy diet, regular exercise, and good oral hygiene, which are all factors that affect your child's heart health.

5. Let them know it's not their fault

The AHA explains that kids may think they did something wrong to create a heart health problem. Let them know that's not the case, and turn the conversation to focus on ways to help the situation, whether that be joining the YMCA or taking medication.

Heart disease isn't a fun topic, and telling your kid they have or are predisposed to heart disease is tough. But with the right tips in your conversation arsenal, important health discussions with your kids can be easier.