Learning

Is your child fit for school?

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

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You’ve bought the new uniform, done the official tour and labelled everything from bookbags to plimsolls. That all-important first day at school is nearly here and you want to be ready. But one of the most important things to prepare doesn’t appear on an equipment list – your child’s health. These are some basic health issues – it’s worth making sure your child is up to speed, or if not, take steps now.

It can be tricky to tell the difference between a child who can’t hear and a child who isn’t listening!

HEARING

Apart from the standard check given to babies, your child is unlikely to have had a hearing test before he starts school. So if you do have any concerns, now is the time to visit your GP.

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 to look 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, if you call them, do they have to look around to see where they’ve called you from?

Kids who are in nursery may be more tired at the end of the day because they’ve had a harder time listening, which takes energy. You might also notice a change in their behaviour – for instance, they may become more frustrated.

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.

VISION

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.

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? 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 and you can get vouchers for glasses, so don’t let cost put you off. It’s very sensible to have them screened before school, as visual difficulties can cause all sorts of difficulties. They can hinder intellectual and social development and even lead to behavioural problems.

HAND HYGIENE

We all have the message now that good hand hygiene is your child’s best bet of avoiding nasty illnesses.

Warning signs If your child seems particularly prone to bugs, it could be a sign that he’s skipping regular handwashing.

What next? Get him 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 doing him a favour, 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 a plan for children with food allergies, 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.

Try bringing bedtime forward gradually by 10 minutes a day. Encourage your child to lie quietly in bed even if he doesn’t feel like sleeping...

LACK OF SLEEP

Most children find the first few terms of school very tiring. So before school starts is a good time 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, then 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.

Try bringing bedtime forward gradually by 10 minutes a day. 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.

BEAT THE BUGS!

Some nasty little bugs absolutely love schools – all those children in close proximity! Be on the lookout for these unpleasant characters…

Headlice are tiny grey-brown insects that live in hair. They spread via head-to-head contact and they’re 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 you’ll need to make sure your children are washing their hands thoroughly after using the loo.

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. Many verrucas 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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