Health

Fit for school

Make sure your child is in tip-top condition to get the best out of that crucial first term. Check out our essential health checklist

Published

One of the most important things to look out for in the first year at school is your child’s health. Here are some basic health issues – it’s worth making sure your child is up to speed: if not, take steps now.

HEARING

Apart from the standard check given to babies, children are unlikely to have a hearing test before they start school. So if you do have any concerns, now is the time to visit your GP. Undiagnosed hearing loss can seriously affect a child’s confidence, speech development and literacy.

Warning signs It can be tricky to tell the difference between a child who can’t hear and a child who isn’t listening! But there are some signs worth looking out for. Do they want the TV louder than their brothers and sisters? Do you get a response when you call them? Is their speech developing normally? If you’re out playing at the park and you call to them, do they hear you and respond straight away? You might also notice a change in behaviour – with children becoming frustrated when they can’t hear clearly.

What next? Your health visitor and GP can both refer you to a hearing clinic where your child’s hearing will be tested. The most common reason for a child to have a temporary hearing loss is glue ear – a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum which follows a cold, flu or ear infection. It’s estimated that one in five pre-schoolers suffers from it at some stage. Luckily, glue ear can be cured with a simple operation. Other causes of hearing loss include genetics, a side effect of meningitis, measles and mumps and head injury.

For more information, visit the National Deaf Children’s Society at ndcs.org.uk

VISION

It’s vital to get vision problems sorted out as soon as possible to ensure your child continues to enjoy good eye health. Yet just seven per cent of five-year-olds in the UK have had an eye examination.

Warning signs You can pick up some vision problems – such as a squint – by watching children and looking at their eye movements. Other conditions, such as long or short-sightedness, are invisible and your child is unlikely to realise there’s a problem. If you have a family history of vision problems such as short sight, it’s a good idea to get your child checked. Also look out for things like headaches, screwing up their eyes to see things, or getting bored quickly with reading tasks.

What next? Take your child straight to the optician if you are concerned. Many parents think that you can’t have a child’s eyes tested until they can read. But there are plenty of ways an optician can find out how well a child can see – for example, by using pictures rather than letters. It’s sensible to have children screened before school, as visual difficulties can lead to all sorts of challenges. They can hinder intellectual and social development and even cause behavioural problems. Eye tests for children are free on the NHS and you can get vouchers for glasses.

Many parents think that you can’t have a child’s eyes tested until they can read. But there are plenty of ways an optician can find out how well a child can see – for example, by using pictures rather than letters.

HAND HYGIENE

It’s worth repeating again and again – good hand hygiene is your child’s best bet for avoiding nasty illnesses.

Warning signs If children seem particularly prone to bugs, it could be a sign that they are skipping regular handwashing.

What next? Get kids into the good hygiene habit now! All kinds of germs are spread when kids don’t wash their hands properly after going to the toilet. Chief among these are the vomiting bugs norovirus and rotovirus – not a good way to start the school year! Likewise, nasty cough, cold and flu viruses are spread by droplet infection, when someone coughs or sneezes and expels the germs into the air. By teaching your child to wash his hands after going to the loo, and to cough and sneeze into a tissue, you’re not just keeping him germ-free, you’re helping to keep his class healthy, too.

FOOD ALLERGIES

Starting school can be an anxious time if your child has a food allergy, so work with the school to allay your fears.

Warning signs If your child was diagnosed at a young age, he should hopefully be aware of what he can and can’t eat by now. You need to work on that awareness and help him make the right food choices.

What next Your child’s school should draw up an individual plan for him, involving parents, the school, the child’s doctor and the education authority. This should include symptoms, medication, what to do in an emergency and food management. Don’t be afraid to ask the school what policies they already have in place – is there a nut ban? What first aid training do staff have? Have they dealt with any other children with a food allergy? If you haven’t already let the school know about your child’s allergy, get in touch straight away.

For more information, visit www.anaphylaxis.org.uk.

LACK OF SLEEP

Most children find the first few terms of school very tiring. So before school starts try to sort out any sleep issues.

Warning signs Lack of sleep affects concentration and mood. If your child is tired and grouchy during the day, he may well find school more difficult.

What next Many of us cling to the hope that starting school will tire a child out so much that he decides to forego the bedtime battles. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and the child simply ends up being over-tired and fighting sleep even more. So try bringing bedtime forward gradually by 10 minutes each evening. Encourage your child to lie quietly in bed even if he doesn’t feel like sleeping – audiobooks are great for this. Put a bedtime routine in place – supper, bath, cocoa, story, bedtime. You could even use a sticker chart and give your child a reward for every evening that he goes quietly to sleep.

Many of us cling to the hope that starting school will tire a child out so much that he decides to forego the bedtime battles. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and the child simply ends up being over-tired and fighting sleep even more.

Beat the first-term bugs

Some nasty little bugs absolutely love schools, so be on the lookout:

Headlice are tiny grey-brown insects that live in hair. They spread via head-to-head contact and they are not a sign of being ‘dirty’. Their bites can cause itching. Check your child’s hair regularly and get a special shampoo and nit comb from the chemist if you find anything.

Threadworms are tiny white worms that lay eggs around the anus and cause itching. They are spread when the infected person touches his bottom and doesn’t wash his hands afterwards. If your child complains of an itchy bottom, you can buy over-the-counter worming treatment from your chemist. The whole family will need treating and make sure your children are washing their hands thoroughly after using the toilet.

Verrucas are warts on the soles of your feet – usually a white spot with a black dot in the middle. They are caused by a virus which is spread by contact – for example, when someone with a verruca steps on a wet floor. They often fall off by themselves but you can get over-the-counter treatments from the pharmacy to try and burn them off. Your child will need to wear a protective sock for swimming or PE until the verucca has gone.

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