If your child’s recent optometrist exam shows that he or she needs to wear eyeglasses, here are some things YOU, the parent, need to know. I had to have eyeglasses at the age of nine with a steadily worsening prescription and, speaking from my experiences, here are some things I feel ALL parents ought to know. Remember, no child wants to hear the news that he or she needs glasses.
1. Let your child have a choice from more than just a couple of glasses frames
The best thing you can do to help your child accept and wear eyeglasses is to have him or her choose the frames. While for financial reasons you will most likely not have carte blanche for any frame in the store, your child should be able to choose from at least 5 frames that he or she already likes. This may mean starting from an initial choice of around 25 or more children’s eyeglasses frames within your budget.
Budget tip: In the US at least, it is usually possible to get your prescription tested at one place and your frames at another; they do not both absolutely have to be done at the same optometrist. So get your child’s prescription tested at a really good optometrist who will really spend proper time with your child doing all the tests.
But when it’s time to purchase children’s frames, if there isn’t sufficient frame selection within your budget at your optometrist, take your completed prescription to a cheaper one for just the frames, to ensure your child has a proper choice.
2. If your child is nearsighted, make sure he or she uses an SPF cream around the eyes
The lenses to correct nearsighted vision will have the side-effect of concentrating the sun’s rays onto your child’s face. The stronger the prescription, the stronger the effect.
While no-one will see day-to-day changes, after many, many years of wearing glasses your child can get a darker tanned area around the eyes, and/or fine lines on the skin appearing earlier. It’s too late for me. I definitely have a panda-like look going on with my eyes. But learn from my experiences and get your child to wear an SPF cream around the eye area, applying it every morning and being careful to keep it out of the eyes. For a girl, an SPF moisturizer would work fine. For a boy you will need something masculine; options range from sunblock, or an SPF gender-neutral moisturizer e.g. a “sports gel”, or a men’s SPF moisturizer. If your child is young, there are also children’s SPF moisturizers available.
3. Ask a neighbor or relative to relay some positives about glasses to your child
In your child’s mind, you are the one saddling him or her with a pair of eyeglasses. So they won’t want to hear the positives from you, and if they do, they may dismiss it as “something parents would say”. This is true even if you yourself wear glasses.
Instead, you should ask another adult: a friend, neighbor or relative to mention to your child one or two positive points about glasses. Yes it’s a bit sneaky but it could make the world of difference to your child. One neighbor said something to me as a child that I’ll never forget and made me feel much better about having children’s glasses. The neighbor said “I had a friend who had to have glasses. She didn’t like the idea of it, but then when she put them on she could see all the things she’d been missing – like the leaves on the trees.” And indeed, this was exactly what turned out to be the case for me, so I felt kind of happy that there were positive points that people (other than my parents) knew about. A sporty child for example might like to know that the glasses will help with his or her ability to see better to kick, throw or catch a ball.
4. Never lie to your child about his or her vision
For example, do not tell your child that his or her vision might improve, unless of course the optometrist has said this is a possibility. Have your child follow the optometrist’s directions but do not add anything yourself – otherwise you are basically lying to your child about what is necessary.
For example, if the optometrist says your child needs to wear glasses for situations A, B and C, but not D, then do not make your child wear glasses for situation D! Rest assured your child will have a hard enough time with just A, B and C.
It is surprising how many parents think that being “more strict” than the optometrist will help their child. This won’t help the child’s vision: if it did, the optometrist would have already instructed it, and it will just make life more difficult on your child in general.
Another thing to avoid is the notion of telling the child that his or her eyesight will get worse if he/she doesn’t do certain things, like wearing glasses at all times of day. Unless this statement is actually true, avoid saying it. It puts a lot of onus and blame on young shoulders that doesn’t need to be there. Some eye conditions won’t be helped or hindered long-term by whether or not the child wears glasses at all times of day. Of course, some vision conditions definitely do depend correct wearing of vision aids to preserve vision, and in that case it is absolutely essential to point this out to your child and do everything you can to give him or her the best possible eyesight for the future. But be very careful to distinguish between these two situations – if in doubt, a quick phone call to your optometrist’s office should be able to get you this information for your child at no cost.
5. Buy your child the most practical reading light
Actions can speak louder than words. The best thing you can do to let your child know you care 100% about their vision is to purchase him or her a new and brighter reading light for their bed and desk. This is not necessarily the lamp which looks the cutest or matches the décor the best. This needn’t be expensive or turn into a drama: most discount retailers sell reading lights cheaply.
The only thing to look for is practicality: a large circle of very bright light. Avoid cutsey little lamp-shade type of lights; these often don’t give as bright of a light nor as large of an area as what is needed. Who cares if the reading light doesn’t match the rest of the room? Your child’s ability to read clearly while resting in bed and while seated at the desk doing homework are much bigger priorities than home décor.
Even in cases where the reading light may not actually be medically essential, the fact that you are “meeting your child halfway” will encourage your child to be fully compliant with wearing their glasses.
Consider other areas of the house too; make sure they are bright and well-lit. Remember, soft lighting might seem to you like “mood lighting” or “great ambiance”, but to someone with vision impairments it can create stress. Even when wearing glasses, soft lighting can really frustrate someone who has vision impairments as it can seem like their vision is being additionally constrained by external factors. If you are unwilling or unable to make the entire house light and bright, then please at least add task lighting for the specific areas of the house your child actually uses for reading, crafts and homework – not just the areas your child should use.
6. With your optometrist, consider other vision correction aids for certain situations
While there is no need to purchase the whole array of every vision aid out there for your child, do ask the optometrist if there is anything else besides the pair of prescription eyeglasses that your child might later need vision-wise. This is especially relevant to sports and outdoor activities. If your child is a swimmer for example, and has a fairly strong prescription, then prescription swim goggles may really help keep him or her safe in the water. Be certain to mention your child’s sports or activities (e.g. dance) to your optometrist. If your child spends a lot of time outdoors, prescription sunglasses may be a big help for him or her, for example.
Also talk with your child’s optometrist about whether and/or what age your child might benefit from contact lenses. These are all questions your child might wonder about but be too shy or overwhelmed to ask. For now, a pair of eyeglasses might be all your child needs, but keep on top of his or her future vision needs.
The stronger your child’s prescription is, the more he or she may need additional vision aids for activity-specific situations. Speaking from experience, it can actually be very frightening for a child swimming knowing that he or she will be unable recognize friends or family unless they come right up to the child.
7. If your child requests an additional vision aid that you cannot afford, simply say so
Going on from the previous point, if the child requests something that is not strictly necessary, like contact lenses when he or she already has a pair of glasses, if you cannot afford it simply say so and cite the cost as the reason. However, please do not lie to your child and claim that he or she is an unsuitable candidate for lenses (anyway, only an optometrist can make that determination). In other words, do not ‘blame’ the child’s vision for your inability to provide any extra vision aids. There is absolutely no shame in not being able to afford the optional extras.
However, if the issue is that you can afford it but you choose not to, do try to at least see the situation from your child’s point of view. In that case, if your child genuinely wants contact lenses and would be a suitable candidate both medically speaking and from a responsible lens care perspective, then perhaps you could even come to a compromise. You could say:
- “If you get an after-school job and pay half of the cost, we’ll pay the other half”.
- “Contacts require a lot more care and cleaning. Let’s have you get used to glasses for a year as they are easier. If you still feel strongly about contacts a year from now, then we’ll think about it – but even then, we’re not promising anything. Just that this is not a decision to be made this year.”
Or, as a parent it is also completely your right to put your foot down 100% and say
- “No, it’s just too expensive and we feel this is not a good use of our money when you already have glasses. When you are out of the home and working your own job then you can buy contact lenses yourself – that is your responsibility, not ours.”
The choice is yours of how to deal with these types of issues.
However, if you cannot afford the cost of an optional vision aid, there is no shame in that. Just be up-front about the reason; please don’t lie to your child or blame him or her.
8. Never, ever make the “windshield-wiper joke”
Trust me, it’s not one bit funny when you’ve heard it before. If you don’t know what this refers to, it’s the one where it’s raining and the child has wet glasses, so someone says “you should have windshield wipers on those glasses!” People telling it seem to think this is a hilarious joke – but to the glasses wearer it really is the lamest joke ever because it gets repeated so often.
9. The optometrist is important
Make sure your child adheres to the optometrist’s instruction for vision care. Keep up with your child’s eye exam appointments; don’t be tempted to skip – your child’s prescription may change surprisingly rapidly as he or she grows.
And don’t be afraid to call the optometrist’s office after an appointment if you have questions you forgot to ask. Because the appointments are usually yearly, it is a bit silly to wait until the next year to answer a question that affects the here-and-now. In nearly all cases, the follow-up information you seek about your child’s vision care can be given to you over the phone free of charge.
While it may seem like a lot of work to be supportive of your child’s vision, it really isn’t as much work as it seems. Most of it involves one-off things and not constant day-to-day work for you.
If you think that the ideas in this article seem a little extreme, they are not at all extreme for the child with a strong prescription. For example, those who have had strong prescriptions will know that walls and doorframes appear slightly curved at first due to the curvature at the edges of the lenses – imagine how confusing that looks to your child putting putting on new glasses! The brain eventually learns to compensate for this – but my point is, dealing with your child’s eyeglasses is much harder work for him or her than it is for you. So be supportive and help your child in every way possible.
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