Since my son got his first pair of glasses when he was 2 years old, we’ve had some interesting, and at times harrowing, adventures. There were the metal frames that bent sideways, the lost acetate frames, and, oh, did you know that if your child wrestles with his dad while wearing thick lenses that stick out of the frames a smidgen, he could slice open his eyebrow and need stitches? Yeah, me neither.
My son is 6 years old now, and we’ve come a long way in this department. To help other parents navigate the world of glasses with young children, I spoke with several experts. Here are their suggestions for a smoother ride.
Get a vision check early. Children should be examined between the ages of 6 and 12 months, says Stacy Hill, a clinical adjunct faculty member at Pacific University College of Optometry. “If the doctor finds no concerns at that visit, then the child should be reexamined at three years and again before entering school,” she adds. If the visit isn’t covered by insurance, the InfantSEE program provides free eye examinations to children up to 12 months old, checking for nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, eye movement problems and eye health problems. While eye charts don’t work on babies, flashlights and small toys help the doctor see how well the eyes are working.
Vision is more than 20/20. “If your child is seeing well but is struggling in school or has attention/behavioral problems,” Hill says, “there is a strong chance that there is a visual skill deficit that needs to be addressed with glasses or vision therapy.” These deficits could include focusing issues, double vision, strabismus, “lazy eye” and visual-motor problems such as clumsiness. Vision therapy is like physical therapy, using lenses, prisms, filters and other tools under the supervision of a doctor to improve visual skills. For an evaluation, look for a local developmental and pediatric optometrist at COVD.org. “If there isn’t a vision skill issue, the doctor may be able to help connect parents to other professionals who may be able to help,” she adds.
Think about replacement and repair policies. Accept the fact that your kids will lose or break their glasses, and you will need to have a plan for when that happens. Zenni Optical sells replacement frames for glasses if you purchased them there originally — I paid about $7 to have a new pair shipped when ours broke. (Wrestling the lenses into the new frames caused me to break into a sweat, so brace yourself.) Jonas Paul Eyewear will provide a one-time replacement pair of frames for half-off. Inexpensive glasses might be easier to replace, while higher-priced glasses might come with better replacement and repair policies — but not always. Check all policies to make sure you’re comfortable with them before you buy. Having a backup pair is also nice, if money allows.
Frame material options. When it comes to the material for the frame, “pick your poison,” says Richard Golden, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Letting your child have a voice in the final decision will mean better care for and use of his or her glasses. “Metal frames are more adjustable and they’re lighter. The downside is that they can bend — but they don’t break as easily. Plastic frames don’t get bent out of shape as easily, but the hinges on them are less flexible so that they can break.” For much younger kids, Golden recommends frames that are made out of a molded nylon material. “They don’t have an actual hinge on them so they’re completely flexible,” he says. “You could tie them in a pretzel, and they won’t break.” Miraflex, Dilli Dalli and Flexon are some of the brands that offer these frames.
Know when to wear the glasses. “I think everyone assumes you need to wear them all the time, and it really just depends on the prescription," says Megan E. Collins, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. "Some kids are nearsighted, and glasses are just for seeing things far away; some kinds are farsighted, and they need them just to read.” Kids with strong prescriptions may need to wear them all the time, especially if they’re helping to correct for strabismus, or eye misalignment. Specific glasses for specific times also means that if your child plays a competitive sport, sports glasses, such as Rec Specs — even for prescription goggles — are a nice option. For outdoor activities, transition lenses, which automatically tint to block the sun’s rays, are helpful for kids who are super sensitive to light. Otherwise, Collins says, they aren’t necessary. You can trade their regular glasses out for fun sunglasses, or use a hat to shield their eyes.