If you are a parent or guardian, then you know what it's like to worry about your children's health, whether it's concern about illnesses, unhealthy environments, or risk for future disease. This worry is natural, and even rational, as early childhood experiences can have an effect your children's long-term health.
Childhood is a particularly vulnerable time for young lungs, in fact, which are much smaller, narrower, and more susceptible to injury compared to adult lungs. Because of this, children's lungs need extra protection from illness and airborne hazards like pollution and smoke.
Unfortunately, lung damage sustained during childhood can significantly increase a child's risk for asthma and lung problems later in life. It can even set the stage for more serious lung conditions that appear in older adulthood, including COPD.
Fortunately, there are a variety of different precautions you can take to minimize your child's risk for lung damage and disease. But in order to do so, you first need to understand children's lung sensitivities and how to recognize a variety of different substances and activities and that are hazardous to their lungs.
That's why we created this guide specifically for parents who want to know how to keep their children's lungs safe and healthy as they grow. It includes dozens of practical tips for reducing the number of respiratory hazards in your child's lives and helpful strategies for creating a more lung-healthy home.
We'll start by explaining how illnesses, environment, and lifestyle can affect your children's lungs and even pre-dispose them to lung problems later in life. Then, we'll explain how to make some simple changes to household habits and routines in order to minimize your children's exposure to respiratory irritants at home.
Finally, we'll discuss what you can do to prepare your children with the knowledge and values they need to take care of their lungs for the rest of their life. In these sections, you'll find helpful advice (curated from experts) for talking to your kids about smoking, as well as additional tips for teaching them the skills they need for good respiratory health.
Why Worry About Lung Disease So Young?
Most serious lung diseases, like COPD, begin in older adulthood, which is usually when the first major symptoms start to appear. Because of this, it might seem strange to start worrying about lung disease so early in your child's life.
However, it's important to understand that COPD is caused by lung damage, and lung damage that leads to COPD usually happens much earlier in life. However, because COPD tends to develop very slowly over the course of many years, the results of that damage might take decades to show.
Most cases of COPD are caused by smoking, but research shows that many other factors besides smoking can contribute to the disease. These factors include early childhood experiences, including respiratory infections and exposure to environmental hazards like smoke.
Because children's lungs are small and still developing, they are even more sensitive to these hazards than adults. This makes them more likely to sustain lung damage from breathing toxic substances, and also increases the risk that this damage will result in long-term effects.
This is also one of the reasons why children develop asthma during childhood, and sometimes later as adults. After all, experts have long known that a child's risk for asthma is strongly influenced by illnesses and harmful substances in their environment.
Because of this, it's particularly important to protect children from lung-damaging substances early in life. Doing so can reduce their risk for lung problems in adulthood, both minor (e.g. reduced overall lung function) and severe (e.g. COPD).
If you are a parent who has COPD, or if you know a loved one with the disease, then you probably have an idea of how terrible and painful it can be. Fortunately, if you are willing to take action in your home and in other areas of your children's lives, you can significantly reduce their risk for lung problems both now and later in life.
Is Your Child At Risk for Lung Disease?
Now that we've established that children's lungs are vulnerable at an early age, let's take a closer look at what specific kinds of things can put their respiratory health at risk. Researchers have identified a number of early childhood risk factors for asthma, COPD, and other lung diseases, most of which you can prevent.
Exposure to Air Pollution and Respiratory Irritants
There are many different kinds of substances that can damage the lungs when you breathe them in, including noxious chemicals, gases, and small airborne particles. Unfortunately, we encounter many of these substances every single day both outdoors and inside our own homes.
Because of this, it's not realistic to avoid respiratory irritants entirely; however, you can take steps to minimize how much and how often your children breathe them in. This is particularly important if your child has asthma or another respiratory condition that makes their lungs extra sensitive to irritation.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce the amount of air pollution and other respiratory irritants your children are exposed to at home. In fact, we'll show you a variety of practical tips and techniques later in this guide to help you make your house a safer environment for developing lungs.
Common respiratory irritants include:
- Air pollution (both indoors and outdoors)
- Fumes from wood-burning fireplaces and stoves
- Chemical fumes from cleaning solutions and household chemicals
- Volatile Organic Compounds (or VOC's) found in products like paints, solvents, perfumes, pesticides, and chemically treated lumber
- Smoke and second-hand smoke
This list covers only a few of many potential respiratory hazards that could affect your children's lungs. We'll go over many more examples, including specific household sources of respiratory irritants, all throughout this guide.
|Image from MyUpchar.|
If your child suffers from asthma, that factor alone can make them more likely to develop COPD later in life. In fact, research has established a very strong link between asthma and COPD, especially severe and persistent childhood asthma.
This connection is at least partially caused by chronic inflammation in the lungs and airways, a symptom that both asthma and COPD share. Over time, the inflammation caused by asthma can cause irreversible changes to lung tissues, resulting in airway obstruction and permanent lung function loss.
In other words, asthma can cause the exact same type of lung damage that leads to COPD.
This is known as Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome, and it's more common in children who experience severe and frequent asthma symptoms. The risk is much lower for children whose symptoms are mild or well controlled.
Unfortunately, having asthma also makes your child's lungs more susceptible to the damaging effects of respiratory irritants (also known as asthma triggers) like allergens, cooking fumes, and smoke. This means that a child with asthma has a higher risk for COPD if they are repeatedly exposed to these hazards.
Research shows that children who have severe respiratory infections—such as pneumonia and bronchitis—in early childhood are more likely to develop COPD in adulthood. The reason for this is that lung infections can damage the delicate, under-developed tissues in a child's lungs, resulting in respiratory decline and sensitivity that can last for the rest of their lives.
One study, for example, found that people who had a serious respiratory infection before the age of five were more likely to have reduced lung function and asthma in adulthood. It also made them more susceptible to the negative effects of second-hand smoke, which can cause severe asthma symptoms and permanent lung function decline.
The risk for for respiratory problems is higher for children whose infections are severe, repeated, or occur at a very early age. Unfortunately, all of the factors we've mentioned—serious lung infections, asthma, and reduced lung function—are all factors that can increase a child's risk for COPD.
Exposure to Smoke and Second-Hand Smoke
Repeated exposure to second-hand smoke is hard on developing lungs, and it can cause measurable, long-term damage that persists into adulthood. It can also make a child's lungs more prone to future damage, which increases the health dangers of smoking—and exposure to other respiratory irritants—for the rest of their life.
Research shows children who were frequently exposed to second-hand smoke grow up to have poorer lung function in adulthood. These children are also more likely to develop COPD decades later, even if they stay smoke-free throughout their lives.
Even smoking while pregnant (or simply being exposed to second-hand smoke during pregnancy) can affect your child's long-term health. For example, children born to mothers who smoked while they were pregnant may suffer from permanently reduced lung function and a higher risk for respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD.
However, the potential for respiratory problems is only one of many reasons why you should protect your child from second-hand smoke. Research shows that second-hand smoke exposure during childhood can lead to a variety of serious health problems later in life, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Here is a more extensive list of health problems caused by childhood exposure to second-hand smoke:
- Ear infections
- Tooth decay
- Illnesses like coughs and colds
- Respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis
- Increased risk of developing asthma
- Increased risk of cognitive problems and learning disabilities
- Increased risk for ADHD
- Increased risk for heart disease later in life
- Increased risk of being a smoker
- Acute respiratory symptoms, including:
Negative health problems caused by smoking during pregnancy:
- Lower birth weight (which can lead to other health complications)
- Increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Increased risk for miscarriage and stillbirth
- Increased risk for developmental problems, including learning disabilities
- Reduced lung function
- Increased risk for asthma and other lung conditions
Early Prevention is Key
It's important to realize that lung damage is cumulative, which means that repeated exposure to lung-damaging particles and environments can add up over time. Too much exposure to respiratory hazards over the course of a lifetime can trigger COPD, even if no single event or exposure can be traced back as the cause.
Most people only get COPD from smoking or from exposure to other airborne substances (e.g. chemical fumes and second-hand smoke) if it happens repeatedly over an extended period of time. But because COPD is such a slow-moving disease, it usually takes years for the long-term damage to show.
Part of the reason it takes so long is that lungs are extremely resilient; they have enough extra capacity built in to compensate for a lot of damage. You can lose a surprising amount of lung function before it begins to noticeably affect your ability to breathe.
Unfortunately, this also means that it's impossible to know whether or not you have COPD until your lungs have already been severely damaged by the disease. You have to lose a large percentage of your lung function before you can be diagnosed with COPD, and it's notoriously difficult to catch in the early stages.
Because of this—and the fact that there is no cure for COPD—prevention is absolutely key. The only true way to prevent COPD, however, is to protect your lungs from hazards like air pollution and smoke as much as possible throughout your life.
This should begin in early childhood, when the lungs are particularly vulnerable to the environment. In fact, it should begin in pregnancy, when any harmful substances a mother gets exposed to can lead to health problems after the baby is born.
How to Reduce Early Childhood Risk Factors for Lung Problems
Fortunately, most of the major childhood risk factors for asthma and COPD are preventable as long as you take the right precautions. Let's take a look at some specific actions you can take while your children are young to minimize their lung disease risks.
If you are a smoker, then quitting is—by far—the best thing you can do to keep your children's lungs healthy and safe. After all, research shows that parents are the main source of second-hand smoke exposure during childhood, and that simply living with a parent who smokes can significantly increase a child's risk for lung disease later in life.
One study, for example, found that children who live with a smoker are 31 percent more likely to die from COPD as adults. Smoking can also have an immediate effect on your child's respiratory health, increasing their risk for lung infections and respiratory illness-related hospitalizations.
According to the EPA, second-hand smoke causes up to 300,000 extra cases of lower respiratory tract infections in children under 18 months of age. As we discussed earlier in this guide, childhood respiratory infections are another major risk factor for developing COPD.
Minimize Your Child's Exposure to Outdoor Air Pollution
Outdoor air pollution is a common respiratory hazard that can cause serious damage to lungs. Air pollution is even more dangerous for children because, in addition to being more vulnerable to lung damage, children get higher doses of air pollution due to their faster breathing rate.
In fact, one major air pollution study (pdf link) found that children who grow up in areas with higher than normal outdoor pollution experienced permanent respiratory decline. Their lungs not only developed more slowly than usual, but also functioned less effectively as adults.
Children with asthma are even more sensitive to air pollution, which can exacerbate asthma symptoms and make them more likely to develop other lung problems like bronchitis and COPD. In many cases, the effects of air pollution are irreversible, which means that children who are exposed to heavy air pollution during childhood may have weakened lungs for the rest of their lives.
Because of this, it's a good to get in the habit of checking the the air pollution levels in your city, which can change significantly from day to day. Then, do your best to plan your children's outdoor activities during days when the outdoor air quality is good.
Keep in mind that things like the weather, temperature, and the even time of day can influence both the amount and the types of pollutants in the air. If you keep your children indoors on days when air quality is poor, you can minimize their exposure to the dangers of heavy pollution.
|Image from Lily Morrison.|
While this might seem inconvenient, limiting how much time your child spends outside breathing polluted air can make a difference in their respiratory health. In most places, you can still ensure plenty of outside playtime on low-pollution days.
However, in some cities, air pollution is so persistent and heavy that it's impossible to avoid. If you live in an area like this, you may have fewer options for protecting your children's lungs.
In some cases, the best option is to move away from the pollution to a city with cleaner air. However, moving your family somewhere new is not a cheap or easy task, and it's simply not a realistic option for many.
But even if you can't get away from polluted outdoor air, what you can do is put extra effort into protecting your children from the respiratory hazards that you do have the power to control (e.g. smoke and chemical fumes). You should also watch your children closely for persistent respiratory symptoms that could indicate a developing problem with their lungs.
Protect Your Child from Respiratory Illnesses
As we've mentioned a couple times already, serious respiratory infections can significantly increase your child's risk for asthma and COPD. That's one reason why it's important to take precaution to prevent your child from getting sick.
Most common respiratory illnesses are minor, but young children have a higher risk of developing complications. If the illness becomes serious, it has the potential to cause permanent lung damage that will follow them through the rest of their lives.
The best way to prevent the spread of illnesses is to practice proper hygiene and teach your kids to look after their own hygiene, too. You should also take care to keep your children away from other children or adults who are sick.
If your child does get sick a with respiratory illness, you should keep a close eye on their symptoms until they get better. Over time, even a simple cold or flu can turn in to a more serious infection like bronchitis or pneumonia.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell the signs of a respiratory infection apart from a less serious illness like a cold, so don't hesitate to call the doctor if you are worried about your child's symptoms. You should also take them to the doctor if their symptoms become severe or if they don't start to get better after being sick for several days.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of pneumonia in children to look out for:
- Rapid breathing
- Difficulty breathing
- Exerting extra effort to breathe
- A grunting or wheezing sound with breathing
- Shaking or chills
- Pain in the chest and/or abdomen
- Fatigue or reduced energy
- Loss of appetite
- Bluish or gray skin color in the lips or fingernails (this is a sign of a medical emergency)
If you notice any of the above symptoms or otherwise suspect your child might have pneumonia, you should take them to the doctor right away. You should also make sure your child is up to date with all their vaccinations, but especially those that protect against respiratory illnesses like whooping cough, pneumonia, and influenza.
You should be extra cautious with children under the age of five, whose lungs are the most sensitive to to the damaging effects of infection. After all, pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in young children, especially children under the age of two.
How to Create a Lung-Healthy Environment at Home
Believe it or not, the place where your children are most likely to be exposed to hazardous respiratory irritants is inside their own home. There are two main reasons for this: First, children tend to spend a large quantity of their time indoors, and the majority of that time is spent at home.
Second, many homes have poor indoor air quality due to unhealthy levels of airborne particles and fumes. In fact, research shows that a large percentage of houses have air quality that's poor enough to cause noticeable respiratory effects, especially in children with asthma.
Because of this, one of the best ways to protect your child's lungs is to minimize the amount of respiratory hazards they are exposed to at home. There are many simple ways to this, including removing sources of airborne irritants and making adjustments to household habits (e.g. cooking and cleaning).
Keep Your Home Smoke Free
Tobacco smoke, and smoke in general, is one of the most dangerous respiratory hazards you can have in your home. Even long after the source of smoke is gone, dangerous gases and airborne particles can persist for days or even months indoors.
As a result, no amount of indoor smoking is ever considered safe, especially in a house with children. Even if you only smoke in the house when your kids are not around, the air will still be contaminated when they return.
Because of this, making your house 100% smoke free is a vital part of creating a safe and clean environment for your kids. That means prohibiting any kind of smoking inside your house, and also outside the house near any open windows and entrances that could allow the smoke to drift indoors.
Other sources of smoke, like wood-burning fireplaces and BBQ grills, can also be a hazard. Occasional use is often fine, but it's not safe to use a wood-burning furnace to heat your house for days at a time.
You should never run any kind of smoke-producing appliance if it causes anyone in your home to experience respiratory irritation, especially symptoms like coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath. If a child or anyone else in your home suffers from asthma, you should be particularly careful to minimize their exposure to smoke.
Always Ventilate When Cooking and Cleaning
Many people don't realize that simple household tasks like cooking and cleaning can actually be very bad for your lungs. Both of these activities can release harmful fumes into the air, and these fumes can irritate yours and your children's lungs when breathed in.
Cooking and cleaning fumes are more likely to cause problems the more often you are exposed, but children's tiny lungs can be effected by smaller doses. Luckily, some simple diligence is all it takes to significantly reduce your family's exposure to these fumes.
The first step is to reduce your children's exposure to direct fumes by keeping them away from the area where you're cooking or cleaning. You can also prevent the fumes from building up indoors by taking care to ventilate the room.
To properly ventilate a space, start by opening up any doors and windows that will allow more air to flow in and out of the room. Many kitchens and bathrooms also have dedicated ventilation fans you can turn on to suck the air directly outdoors.
If you don't have a ventilation fan, you can still use a regular fan to suck fumes out of the room. Simply set up your fan near a window or door and turn it on facing outside.
Doing these things will prevent hazardous fumes from building up to dangerous levels indoors, where they would continue to linger and circulate through your home. This can improve your indoor air quality and significantly reduce the respiratory hazards that your children are exposed to whenever you cook and clean.
Use Safe Cleaning Products
While airflow and ventilation are important, the best way to protect your children from noxious cleaning fumes is to avoid creating them in the first place. That means using lung-safe cleaning products instead of noxious chemical solutions as often as possible in your home.
The first step is to identify any cleaning products you currently own that emit harsh fragrances, VOC's, or chemical fumes. This includes many common commercial cleaning products, including all-purpose cleaners and sanitizing agents like bleach.
Fortunately, you can replace many of these products with safer solutions that are just as cheap and effective. You can do this by making your own cleaning solutions with basic household ingredients, or buying special cleaning products that are considered to be more lung safe.
You should especially avoid using products in spray bottles or aerosol cans because they mist hazardous particles and fumes directly into the air. To prevent this, you can pour liquid cleaning solutions into a small container or bucket and use a cloth or sponge to spread it around.
When you do have to use a noxious chemical in your home, try to do it when your children are out of the house or at least out of the immediate area. And, of course, you should always store dangerous chemicals in a safe place that's out of your children's reach.
To learn more about how to find lung-safe cleaning products or make your own DIY cleaners at home, you can find them in our guide on cleaning products and lung health.
Get Rid of Mold
Mold that grows in your house releases millions of spores into the air, and these spores can be a serious respiratory hazard. Mold spores are particularly harmful to children with asthma and mold allergies, but the level of danger can depend on the type of mold, the amount of mold, and individual lung sensitivities.
Research shows that spending time in spaces contaminated by mold can exacerbate asthma symptoms and cause a number of other respiratory ailments, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and nose or throat irritation. Other studies suggest that exposure to mold in early childhood can significantly increase a child's risk for asthma.
Mold always grows in damp places, and it can often be identified by its musty, moldy smell. The best way to prevent mold growth is to keep all indoor spaces dry, and to clean up any leaks or spills immediately after they happen.
Anything that stays damp for more than a day, or potentially even a few hours, is bound to begin growing some kind of mold. That includes carpets, walls, furniture, mattresses, and even clothing and towels.
In order to prevent mold from taking hold in your home, it's important to inspect your house for signs of mold on a semi-regular basis. That means looking for physical signs, like dark and fuzzy spots on surfaces, and sniffing around to identify any moldy smells.
You should be particularly diligent at checking areas with water sources like sinks, toilets, showers, and washing machines, which include the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room, and utility spaces. Mold can also grow in places you cannot see, including inside the walls and underneath carpets and floorboards.
As soon as you detect any signs of mold, it's important to clean it up immediately. The longer you wait, the worse it can get, and the more harmful mold spores will accumulate in the air.
Small areas of mold can usually be cleaned by hand; just make sure you wear proper safety equipment and keep your children far away while you work. Large areas of mold, or mold that you cannot see or access very easily, may require professional work.
If your house sustains any kind of flooding or leaks, it's important to take the risk of mold very seriously. Water damage has the potential to cause extensive mold growth inside walls, floors, and other structures that is difficult, and often expensive, to remove.
Minimize Other Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
So far, we've talked about how to reduce several of the most common respiratory irritants found in homes, including cooking fumes, cleaning fumes, smoke, and mold. While these hazards tend to be the biggest threats to children, there are many other household substances and materials that can also pollute the air in your home.
These include things like chemically treated wood, adhesives, air fresheners, and other products that emit VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds). Most of these substances are not particularly dangerous on their own or in small quantities, but when used inside your home they can pose a long-term hazard.
Indoor air pollution comes from a variety of different sources that release small amounts of airborne particles and fumes into the air. These irritants accumulate indoors over time, which means that even minor sources of respiratory irritants can eventually cause a measurable increase in pollution.
Small amounts of pollution in the home are not likely to cause problems for most children and adults with healthy lungs. However, it's more likely to pose a risk to children who are very young or children who suffer from respiratory conditions like asthma.
Children with asthma are much more vulnerable to small quantities of respiratory irritants and poor air quality in general. That's why asthma specialists often recommend that patients eliminate as many sources of air pollution as possible from their homes, including the minor ones.
Here is a more complete list of common household sources of respiratory irritants:
- Gas stoves, space heaters, and furnaces (may emit harmful levels of NO2)
- Brand new furniture, mattresses, and carpets (may emit harmful VOC's)
- Strong perfumes and fragrances
- Ozone-emitting air purifiers
- Materials and solutions commonly used for construction and home renovations, including treated wood, varnish, adhesives, and paint
- Household chemicals, cleaning agents, and aerosol sprays (e.g. pesticides, solvents, ammonia, bleach, and aerosol disinfectants)
- Scented candles and oil warmers
- Household dust
- Dust mites (especially in pillows and mattresses)
- Pet dander (e.g. from dogs or cats)
- Cockroaches and rodents (e.g. mice)
- Wood-burning stoves
- Cooking fumes
- Fumes from cars, lawn mowers, and other fuel-powered vehicles and machines
The best way to reduce your child's exposure to these harmful substances is to avoid using them in your house altogether. That means not buying products that emit harmful airborne particles, fumes, and VOC's and using lung-safe products at home.
It's also important to clean your home regularly to get rid of dust, allergens, and other fine particles that can cause allergies and lung irritation. It also helps to open up the windows to let fresh air in and polluted air out—of course, you should only do this wen the air quality outdoors is not a risk.
Here are some additional resources for learning more about how to improve the air quality in your home:
- How to Avoid VOC's: How to identify and reduce your exposure to a broad category of respiratory irritants emitted by a multitude of common household items and activites
- Spring Cleaning for Healthy Lungs and COPD: Step-by-step guide for cleaning dust, allergens, and other respiratory irritants out of your home
- How to Improve the Air Quality in Your Home: More tips and tricks for keeping the air in your house as clean as possible
Raising Kids Who Don't Smoke
The number one thing you can do to prevent your children from developing COPD is to raise them to not to smoke. After all, smoking is the number one cause of COPD, accounting for approximately 90% of COPD disease cases.
Because of this, teaching your kids to live and value a smoke-free lifestyle is just as important as protecting them from respiratory hazards as they grow up. You can do this by setting a good example, communicating with your kids, and making sure they understand the gravity of becoming addicted to smoking.
Talk To Your Kids About Smoking
Even though the dangers of smoking might seem like common sense, it's not something that all children will instinctively know. That's why it's important to talk to your children directly about smoking and all the health problems it can cause.
First, make sure your child knows that smoking is off-limits in no uncertain terms. However, you should also help them to build the confidence they need to avoid pressure from their environment and peers.
If your child knows learns from a young age that smoking is dangerous and taboo, they will be more likely to take smoking seriously as they get older. The more you teach them while you can, the better equipped they will be when they have to start making these important decisions for themselves.
Most importantly, you should let your children and teens know that they can come to you with any questions or concerns that they have. If you create an open, honest dialogue between you and your kids, you will have more opportunities to offer healthy guidance.
Here are some great online resources for starting a conversation with your kid about smoking:
- Tools for talking with teens about tobacco from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Tobacco Education Resources for Kids and Teens from healthychildren.org
- Quit-smoking Infographics and other informational resources for teens from North Carolina Public Health
For example, if your teen is hanging around with other teens who smoke or vape, you might be concerned that they will be more prone to trying it themselves. That doesn't mean your teen will necessarily cave to peer pressure, but it might be a great opportunity to strike up an honest conversation about smoking and other habits that could put their health at risk.
This allows you to learn more about your child's beliefs and behaviors surrounding smoking, and gives you the chance to address any misconceptions they may have. This can also help you build a sense of trust that will encourage your child to talk to you about these things in the future.
Having regular conversations with your kids about what's going on in their lives will also help you look out for risky behavior or other warning signs that your teen has started to smoke. The quicker you recognize the problem, the earlier you can intervene and get your child the help they need to quit for good.
- Start the conversation early, at age 5 or 6, and continue to discuss it as they get older.
- Get involved with anti-smoking programs and efforts at your child's school.
- Talk to your children about TV shows, movies, tobacco advertisements, and other media that makes smoking seem glamorous or cool.
- Make sure your kids have the confidence, self-esteem, and self-respect that they need to stick up for themselves and make healthy choices.
- Know your children's friends, activities, and the rhythm of their life so you can look out for changes and warning signs of risky behavior.
- Be clear about prohibiting smoking, including specific rules and expectations.
- Talk to your children about the dangers and costs of tobacco use, including the difficulties of living with and getting over addiction.
- Discuss will your children different ways that they can avoid the temptation to use tobacco products, and strategies for refuse them if they are offered by friends or peers.
Set a Good Example
As a parent, it can be much more difficult to teach your child a lesson if you don't follow that lesson yourself. That's why it's important to set a good example about smoking for your kids.
The best way to do this is to stay smoke-free yourself, or, if you're already a smoker, to quit. After all, studies show that children who grow up with parents who smoke are more likely to start smoking themselves later on in life.
If you are a current smoker who is not ready to quit, the next best thing you can do is avoid smoking in front of your children. This will reduce the risk of normalizing the behavior and also protect your kids from second-hand smoke.
You should also have an explicit conversation with your children about your smoking and make it clear that it's not okay just because you do it. They will be more likely to understand if you express regret for ever smoking and explain why it is so hard for you to quit.
You can also point out all the negative effects that the addiction has had on your own lifestyle and health. Even if you can't set a good example through your actions, you can still set a good example with your values and beliefs.
Get Your Child Help to Quit
|Image from Oftenfun.|
If your child has already started to smoke, the best thing you can do is get them help to quit. Luckily, you don't have to figure out how to help them on your own; there is a huge range of quit-smoking resources available for you to use.
There are many online and in-person resources, including smoking cessation counseling, quit-smoking classes, self-help books, and even mobile app and text-based services. You can even find a wide range of programs designed specifically for young people and teens.
Here are some teen quit-smoking resources to get you started:
- Programs and Resources from the Youth Tobacco Cessation Collaborative
- Quit Smoking Tips and Resources from the National Institute of Health's SmokeFree Teen Website
- How Can I Quit Smoking? for Teens from TeensHealth
- Youth Tobacco Prevention page from the CDC
Help Your Kids Learn How to Care for Their Lungs
Just like it's vital for children to learn about person hygiene, healthy eating, and how to be safe with electricity, it's also important for children to learn how to keep their lungs safe. That means learning what a lung-healthy lifestyle looks like and how to recognize lung hazards.
This knowledge isn't something they can learn all at once, but rather something they will gradually absorb through lessons and experience. That's why it's important to teach your kids about the importance of taking care of their lungs and help them develop practical skills to do so.
In these next sections, we're going to go over some practical tips for helping your children learn how to keep their lungs safe. We'll discuss how you can instill life-long, lung-healthy habits and make sure your children know to avoid all the things that are dangerous for their lungs
These lessons will not only help your children protect through lungs throughout childhood, but will also ensure they have the knowledge to make lung-healthy choices throughout the rest of their lives.
Show Your Kids What a Lung-Healthy Lifestyle Looks Like
Children and teens tend to have trouble understanding long-term consequences for their actions. The threat of health problems later in life often isn't enough on its own to discourage dangerous and unhealthy behaviors.
That's why it's important to make lung-healthy habits a part of normal, everyday life in your home. Instead of simply telling your kids what to do or avoid, you can show them healthy behaviors through your own habits and household routines.
For example, you can teach your kids safe cleaning habits by practicing them yourself; for example, by always opening up doors and windows when you clean. As you demonstrate this action, you can explain why that step is important, and how open space and airflow can help protect their lungs.
As your children grow up seeing all the things that you do to keep yours and your family's lungs safe, they will be more likely value their own respiratory health. By setting a good example for them to follow, you give them the knowledge and confidence they need to make healthy choices on their own.
Help Your Kids Practice Vital Life Skills
Early life lessons play a huge role in determining what kind of lifestyle a child will grow up to live. Because of this, it's important to help your child develop lung-healthy habits starting from an young age.
This could be as simple as having your children participate in household chores and health-related activities. For example, if you teach your children how to cook and clean with you in the house, they will be able to reference and build on those skills as they get older.
You can also use shared chores as a way to teach proper cleaning techniques that minimize their exposure to dangerous particles and fumes. You could, for example, teach them how to wipe things up properly with a cloth and a lung-safe cleaning solution so they don't grow up relying on chemical sprays.
You could also teach your children practical cooking techniques as they get older that reduce the amount of oil and other harmful fumes they breathe. For example, you could show them how create proper ventilation when cooking on top of the stove, and how to use other cooking techniques (e.g. slow cooking and baking) that create fewer fumes and pose less risk for their lungs.
Good personal hygiene is another important skill for respiratory health that you can work on with your kids. Things like proper hand-washing technique, for example, and how to avoid germs in public, can prevent them from getting infected with a multitude of respiratory illnesses.
As a parent, teaching your children these practical skills for healthy living is one of the best things you can do for their future well being. By helping them practice these skills as children, you give them a solid foundation to build on throughout their lives.
Look for Teachable Moments
As most parents already know, you can't simply lecture your kids on the long list of lung hazards and expect the lesson to stick. Instead, try to keep an eye out for examples and teaching opportunities that pop up in daily life.
While they might not remember everything you tell them, you're more likely to make an impression if you point out hazards at relevant times.
For example, take the time to explain that the reasons you do certain things around the house is to help keep yours and your children's lungs safe. For example, tell them why it's important to clean dust and allergens out of the house, or why you keep the windows closed on dusty or high-pollution days.
You can also look for opportunities outside the home to teach your kids about respiratory hazards they may encounter in everyday life. This could include pointing out the differences between safe and unsafe cleaning products at the store, or explaining the reasons for “no smoking” signs posted in restaurants.
Even activities like attending a BBQ or bonfire can be a great opportunity to teach your children how to be careful around sources of smoke. You could teach them how to position themselves away from the direct path of smoke, for example, or explain how the smoke can irritate their eyes, nose, and throat if they get too close.
Here are is a list of some other dangerous behaviors and circumstances that children should know to avoid:
- Being around people who are smoking (especially indoors or in enclosed places)
- Breathing fumes from cleaning products and household chemicals
- Cooking, cleaning, and using chemicals in enclosed and poorly-ventilated spaces
- Breathing exhaust fumes from cars and other vehicles or machinery
- Spending too much time outdoors in heavy air pollution
- Breathing smoke from BBQs, bonfires, woodburning stoves, etc. too frequently
- Smoking cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products
- Improper handling of dangerous chemicals like ammonia and bleach
As a parent, one of the most important things you can do for your children is protect them from dangers and disease. That includes respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD, which can be triggered, at least in part, by exposure to lung irritants in the environment starting in childhood.
Because of this, all parents should make an effort to minimize the amount of respiratory hazards in their children's lives. That means creating a lung-safe at home and protecting your kids from outside sources of air pollution, smoke, and other dangerous lung irritants.
Additionally, by setting a good example yourself, you will help your children develop the habits, values, and confidence they need to practice good respiratory health all throughout their lives. Children who learn these skills starting from a young age will be much better equipped to to protect their lungs when they go out on their own.
That's also why it's important to keep an honest and candid dialogue going with your kids regarding smoking and other habits that could affect their lungs. When you take an active role in your child's life and education, you will have more opportunities to support them steer them through important life decisions.