Why ‘if-then’ scenarios don’t work as parenting strategies for HAE

A tactic parents use to bribe their toddlers isn't apt for chronic illness

Danita LaShelle Jones avatar

by Danita LaShelle Jones |

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With 20 minutes until the appointment and an 18-minute drive, I’d run out of any wiggle room for anything that might delay me in getting the twins to the pediatrician on time.

Although I had attempted to leave quickly, I answered honestly when my then 4-year-olds asked if they would receive shots at the doctor’s office. My answer stopped them dead in their tracks.

No matter how many times I pleaded, my adorable toddlers stood in place, refusing to move.

“If you get this shot, then you won’t get really sick later,” I said, attempting to appeal to their young reasoning. It didn’t work.

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Dealing with my daughter’s HAE led to an epiphany about my mother

Finally, after reaching desperation, I did what any parent would do: I resorted to bribery.

“If you get the shot, then you can have ice cream,” I said. After proving I had the goods in the freezer, we quickly got in the car with only seconds to spare. They confidently walked into their appointment because the ice cream was guaranteed.

There comes a point in every parent’s journey where we resort to the “if-then” strategy with our children.

If you clean your room, then you can go out and play.

If you eat all your vegetables, then you get dessert.

If you take this nasty medicine, then you’ll feel better in the morning.

As adults, we even tend to apply this strategy in our own lives.

If we pay our mortgage, then we keep our house.

If we go to work, then we get paid.

Since childhood, we were taught to believe that if we endure the uncomfortable, something good will happen to us. Unfortunately, in conditioning my children to think this, I never knew I’d have to walk it back several years later.

A slight modification

When our oldest daughter, whom we lovingly call Ladybug, was diagnosed with hereditary angioedema (HAE), I made the grave mistake of leaning hard into the if-then strategy.

Because we didn’t immediately understand HAE, I didn’t realize that implementing if-then promises did more harm than good. During trips to the hospital, doctor appointments, and even at-home emergency infusions, I would often coax Ladybug into these uncomfortable situations with statements like:

If you let them give you Berinert, then you’ll feel better by tomorrow.

If you stop playing outside, then your flares will be less frequent.

If you get this preventive shot in your thigh, then you’ll have a better week.

Initially, my goal was to convince her that if she got the shots she hated, stayed in the hospital, or sacrificed the things she loved to do, then her HAE would miraculously be cured.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t true. Sometimes, HAE patients can take all their preventive medicine, change their diet, and stop all their favorite activities yet still end the week needing aggressive treatment. As a parent and caregiver, I learned that when it comes to this illness, the worst strategy glamorizes uncomfortable situations that can lead to bad outcomes.

Recently, I learned to change my strategy when dealing with Ladybug. Instead of the if-then construct, we use “when-may.”

When you get your Berinert sooner, you may feel better faster.

When you get home from the hospital, you may want to avoid overexerting yourself.

When we tell the doctor you haven’t been feeling well lately, he may have better options.

When-may doesn’t offer guarantees or lead to broken promises; it merely introduces Ladybug to possibilities.

As caregivers of children with chronic illnesses, offering a world of guarantees can be less comforting. Sometimes we have much more hope to offer when we offer them a world of possibilities.

Note: Angioedema News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Angioedema News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to angioedema.


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