Apart from the standard check given to babies, children are unlikely to have had 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! Ask yourself: 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 call for them, do they have to look around to see which direction you are in?
What next? Your health visitor and GP can both refer you to a hearing clinic where your child’s hearing will be tested. The commonest 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 or, flu or ear infection. It’s estimated that one in five pre-schoolers has it. Luckily, glue ear can be cured with a simple operation. Other causes of hearing loss include genetic conditions, a side effect of meningitis, measles and mumps, or head injury. For more advice and information, visit the National Deaf Children’s Society at ndcs.org.uk
A child’s visual development is complete by the age of eight, so it’s vital to get vision problems sorted out as soon as possible. Yet very few 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 your child and looking at his eye movements. Other conditions, such as long or short-sightedness, are invisible and your child is unlikely to realise by himself that there’s a problem.
If you have a 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? If you have any concerns, take your child straight to the optician. Many parents think that you can’t have a child’s eyes tested until they can read. But there are plenty of ways that they can find out how well a child can see – for example, by using pictures rather than letters. Eye tests for children are free on the NHS. It’s very sensible to have them screened before school as visual difficulties can hinder intellectual and social development and even lead to behavioural problems.
This is, of course, a huge health issue right now, and your child may already be quite aware of the need for repetitive hand washing to avoid Covid-19. Still, it’s worth repeating again and again – good hand hygiene is your child’s best bet of avoiding nasty illnesses, including Covid. Hands should be washed:
- after using the toilet.
- before and after handling raw foods like meat and vegetables.
- before eating or handling food.
- after blowing the nose, sneezing or coughing.
- after touching animals, including pets, their food and after cleaning their cages
Warning signs If your child seems particularly prone to bugs, it could be a sign that he’s skipping regular handwashing.
What next? A good hygiene routine needs to be repeated over and over again until children remember it. They should wash their hands in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds (try getting them to sing Happy Birthday twice!) 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 – in addition to Covid 19, of course! 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 children to wash their hands after going to the loo, and to cough and sneeze into a tissue, you’re not just doing them a favour, you’re helping to keep everyone else they come into contact with healthy too.