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When your child starts wearing glasses

By BRUCE A. EPSTEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


One of our grandchildren wears glasses to correct a vision problem. We think she looks cute, and she doesn't seem to mind wearing them. On the other hand, many parents have trouble getting their youngster to wear his or her glasses.

One out of every six children ages 3 to 16 wears eyeglasses to either correct or prevent vision problems. Probably the first step in getting a child to wear her glasses is to get the glasses accepted -- by the parents.

Learning that your child needs glasses can be an emotional experience. The realization that your child's eyesight is not perfect can be a blow to everyone's self-esteem. Despite newer and more fashionable frames, glasses can seem like a terrible intrusion on your little one's face. You might have trouble recognizing your child behind even the most sophisticated frames.

Some parents may feel sad or upset to think that there is something "wrong" with their child. Some may remember from their own childhood days a classmate who wore glasses and was teased or called "four eyes" by playmates.

The key is for parents to develop a positive attitude toward their glasses-wearing child. This happens once parents realize that the glasses will make an important difference in their youngster's eyesight. The child will now have an opportunity to expand his world, a chance to see better and the ability to get information more efficiently. Parents who honestly believe that the glasses are important for their child will have an advantage when it comes to getting the youngster to wear them.

From the child's point of view, the adjustment to wearing glasses can also be difficult. Glasses may feel uncomfortable or heavy at first, especially for those kids with aphakia (eyes without lenses due to cataract surgery). They may also be inconvenient. For example, where do you store the glasses when you're not wearing them so you do not lose or sit on them? For the older child, it may be hard to figure out how or when to use them for sports, such as swimming, and other activities.

Here are a few ideas to help parents get their children to wear their glasses.

-- Start your child off by having him wear the glasses for short periods of time during enjoyable activities, when the child will be having so much fun that he will forget about the glasses. For example, use the glasses as part of reward times, such as when your child is watching her favorite video.

-- Choose a time when the child is rested and in a good mood to start requiring the glasses.

-- If the child takes her glasses off, be sure you put them back on in a firm but loving manner.

-- If a child learns that he has control over wearing his glasses, parents may lose the battle. You do not want taking off the glasses to be an attention-getting tool.

-- Check the fit of the glasses. As the child grows, the glasses may become tight or uncomfortable. Glasses that are poorly fitted can easily slip and slide down, and they become useless.

-- Pick activities where the glasses will make the biggest difference in your child's ability to see.

-- Be positive. The attitude of parents and grandparents can influence a child more than most people think. Make glasses "cool" for your child to be wearing and point out pictures of other people, sports stars or entertainers who wear glasses. For very young children, "being just like Mommy or Nana" may be what counts.

-- Compliment your child for remembering to wear his glasses, and do not go ballistic when he takes them off.

-- Give your child some say in selecting the frame. Select three or four different frames that are acceptable to you, and then let the child pick the one she likes best.

-- Make the glasses a part of the child's daily routine. Put them on in the morning as the child is getting dressed and remove them before naps and bedtime. Let teachers know the child's prescribed wearing schedule so the youngster cannot talk them into letting him remove the glasses when they should be worn.

There are many good books about children wearing glasses. Some include:

AGES 3 TO 5: Baby Duck and the Bad Eyeglasses by Amy Hest (Candlewick Press)

AGES 5 TO 8: Dogs Don't Wear Glasses by Adrienne Geoghegan (Crocodile Books), Libby's New Glasses by Tricia Tusa (Holiday House), All the Better to See You With by Margaret Wild (Whitman and Co.), Winnie Flies Again by Korky Paul and Valerie Thomas (Oxford University Press), X-Ray Mable and Her Magic Specs by Claire Fletcher (Bodley Head), the Arthur books by Marc Brown (Red Fox), Glasses. Who Needs 'Em? by Lane Smith (Viking), Luna and the Big Blur by Shirley Day (Magination), Chuckie Visits the Eye Doctor by Luke David (Simon Spotlight).

AGES 8 AND OLDER: the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury), Mom, I Need Glasses by Angrliks Wolff (Lion Press), The Eyes of Kid Midas by Neal Shusterman (Little Brown and Co.).

-- Bruce A. Epstein practiced pediatrics in St. Petersburg for 26 years. He edits the Web site http://www.kidsgrowth.com.

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