Let's do it! Ways to keeping your child healthy during the school year
In preparing to send our children back to school after a long illness-free summer - uniforms purchased, books bought, auxillary fees paid - we can't help but wonder, 'How do I keep my child healthy all school-year round?'
The School Medical
Well, we should start with the school medical. Most schools require it upon entry to the institution - primary or secondary school - while others require it annually. Some parents consider it a hassle, but it is an excellent tool for catching illnesses that are not routinely checked for and of which parents are unaware. The body measurements - height, weight, etc - are good indicators of growth. The blood pressure test (yes, in children) can give clues about heart or kidney problems; the urine test can tell about diabetes ('sugar') or kidney abnormalities; vaccines help to boost immunity. The vision test is probably one of the most valuable screens as many children (and adults) don't realise, for years sometimes, that they do not see clearly. Vision is extremely important to receiving and processing information in the traditional classroom. For athletes, additional screens such as electrocardiograms (ECGs) can be life-saving. So, think of the school medical as your child's annual check-up to optimise school performance.
One question frequently asked is, 'how do I prevent my child from catching diseases such as the cold and diarrhoea at school'? Essentially, there are two parts to the answer. One is to teach your child good hygiene from the time he is able to mimic, and then later, understand. Proper hand washing is the most basic yet effective way to prevent illness. How we dry hands is equally important. air-drying or disposable paper towels should be used instead of multi-use cloth towels, especially at school. Furthermore, practising to sneeze and cough in the sleeve (not the hands) is proven to reduce disease spread. Part two of this answer lies with the school's cleaning and sick policy. Toys, etc, should be cleaned daily and sanitised at least weekly, while children with contagious illnesses should be kept from the group setting until better. Do remember, though, that changes in the weather and stress around exam time, especially PEP or CSEC, can make your child more vulnerable to illness.
Injuries at School
This is every parent's nightmare. The first thing is: Do NOT panic. Hopefully, your school would have contacted you, and depending on the severity of the injury, instituted some emergency management. Then, take your child as quickly as possible to see a health professional for immediate care and advice on things to look out for that are not immediately apparent. Do not get upset at the child and scold or blame him/her. This only adds to the stress that you both are feeling. Instead, try to use the incident as a teachable moment so as to prevent recurrence. Sometimes, children just don't know better and accidents are sometimes just that - accidents.
One way to prevent accidents is to educate children about common hazards such as tree climbing; jungle gym stunts; playing with sharp objects, eg., pencils; and the throwing of objects such as stones. We do not wish to stifle their spirit of adventure, but we should teach them how to recognise dangerous situations.
Travelling to and from school can, sadly, be unsafe in today's Jamaica. From early on, we should show children how to cross the street and how to get on and off the bus. We should arrange for them to travel in groups, and where possible, have an adult escort them. Importantly, not accepting gifts such as fancy sweets, toys, gadgets, and cell phones can save your child from abuse ... and worse. These are things that must be taught, reinforced, and tested even before sending children out alone.
A part of keeping our children healthy throughout the year is ensuring that they eat regular and age-appropriate meals. Breakfast is an accepted 'must'. With the worldwide thrust towards healthier eating, no added sugar options and less-refined foods are better choices. In Jamaica, we are blessed with having lots of complex starches such as yams and potatoes for eating as well as fruits year-round to sweeten foods and as delicious desserts. Children should exercise - even just skipping rope - at least three times weekly.
Keeping children healthy allows them to perform better in school: healthy body, healthy mind.
- Dr Tamra Tomlinson Morris is a paediatrician and cardiologist at the Paediatric Place. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.