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If Your Child Has Epilepsy

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on October 14, 2021

If your child has epilepsy, your to-do list is different from that of a parent of a child that doesn't have it.

These tips may help make day-to-day life a little easier.

Dealing With Emotions

It's natural for a child with a chronic illness, or who is different from other kids, to feel resentful. Children with an illness like epilepsy may have emotional problems, like low self-esteem or depression. This can come from within (anger, embarrassment, frustration), or from outside (teasing).

You can help your kid deal with these feelings.

Make sure your child understands as much about the disease as possible. There are many online resources available specifically for children.

Try to get them to be positive about their disease and focus on things they can do. Having epilepsy may place restrictions on your child. Still, they should be able to take part in most activities. At the same time, make sure to help them learn how they can minimize risk.

You can also help the rest of your family adjust:

Be sure your other children understand their sibling's illness. If they feel neglected, try to spend more time with them.

If you think it's necessary, seek family counseling. It can help everyone understand how to handle the effects of the illness together.

Show everyone what to do if your child has a seizure. That way, they won't be afraid when one comes.

Children and Epilepsy Medicine

If your child is taking drugs for their epilepsy, work with their doctor to make sure they're taking them correctly. You'll need to:

  • Know the schedule for the medications (how many times a day to take them, whether they should take them with food, etc.).
  • Learn what to do if your child forgets to take a dose.
  • Know if any meds require blood tests.
  • Be aware of side effects and learn what to do about them.
  • Ask the doctor what to do if your child is ill or has a fever (that can bring on seizures).
  • Make sure your child's school knows they take medicine for epilepsy. If necessary, make plans for them to take it at school.
  • Always carry a detailed list of their medications.

Handling Problem Behavior in Kids With Epilepsy

Remember, children with epilepsy should be treated just like any other child whenever possible. Just as kids with epilepsy can go to school, play sports, and go on dates, they can also get yelled at by their parents when they step out of line. You shouldn't let epilepsy excuse bad grades, and you shouldn't let it excuse bad behavior.

As any doctor or parenting book will tell you, kids need discipline. Treating your kid like an invalid is a surefire way of getting them to behave like one. Even worse, you could be turning them into a tyrant. Children are smart. If your child sees that you're afraid of making them upset because of their condition, they may take advantage.

Going easy on one child with epilepsy can also build resentment among your other children. They may already feel that the child with epilepsy gets more attention than they do. If they see their sibling getting away with unacceptable behavior, they're going to get angrier.

Remember, a spoiled, self-centered child won't be popular on the playground. Overindulgence on your part could impair your child's social skills.

Of course, you have to make decisions about discipline based on the specific case. If your child's seizures are completely uncontrolled, you may need to adjust your usual discipline to some extent. In addition, some children who have epilepsy also have developmental or learning problems that can make raising them more challenging.

Keep in mind that your child's bad behavior may be related to side effects from epilepsy medicines. Some medicines could make your child hyperactive, exhausted, or forgetful.

Whatever the reason, don't settle and accept the situation. If your child's seizures are uncontrolled, or if you think medications are causing problems, talk to your doctor. Allowing the problems to persist -- while you live in fear of upsetting your child and provoking a seizure -- isn't healthy for anyone. A lack of discipline will make behavior worse, and discipline, itself, will not worsen epilepsy.

What Else Can I Do?

Keep an eye on your child near water, whether at home or outside.

At home:

  • Keep an eye on them in the bathtub.
  • Make sure the bathroom door opens outward so that you can open it, in case your child falls. Take locks off the bathroom door.
  • Check your bathtub drain to make sure it's working properly.
  • Keep tub water at low levels.
  • Keep water temperature low to prevent scalding.
  • Install a shower or tub seat with a safety strap.
  • Keep all electronics away from the sink or bathtub.

Away from home:

  • Don't let them swim alone.
  • Make sure all adults, including lifeguards and instructors, know your child has epilepsy.
  • If they have a seizure while swimming, get them out of the water as soon as possible.
  • If anything seems wrong, call your doctor right away.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

HealthyChildren.org: "Seizures, Convulsions, and Epilepsy,”  "Coping with Chronic Illness."

Epilepsy Foundation: "Living with Epilepsy: Your Child at Home."

Solomon L. Moshe, MD, professor of Neurology, Neuroscience and Pediatrics, director of Clinical Neurophysiology and Child Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York; past president of the American Epilepsy Society.

William R. Turk, MD, division chief, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neurology, The Nemours Children's Clinic, Jacksonville, FL.

Freeman, J. et al. Seizures and Epilepsy in Childhood: A Guide. 2nd ed. 2002.

National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities.

Nemours Foundation.

Epilepsy Foundation.

American Epilepsy Society.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Epilepsy Foundation Entitled 2 Respect.

Medscape Epilepsy Resource Center.

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