Prevention & Recovery

Keeping kids healthy at school

Author: Canadian Living

Prevention & Recovery

Keeping kids healthy at school

One can't help but empathize with a child sick in bed with a cold. We've all felt the symptoms: an aching, stuffy head coupled with a drippy red nose rubbed raw from too many tissues and a dry cough that gets tickly when you try to lie down to rest. However, "although pretty unpleasant, catching a cold is not always a bad thing," says Dr. Nana Graves, a pediatrician of 26 years and co-owner of Clinique Enfant Medic in Dollard des Ormeaux, Que.

Dr. Graves explains that with each virus contracted, a child's body produces an army of antibodies to fight it. This boosts the child's immune system, making him or her healthier -- more resistant, in the long term. That said, no parent wants their child to be sick and missing school all the time, so here are some simple tips to help keep your kids healthy.

Reducing the spread
There is something simple that children can do to keep the number of viruses they pick up to a minimum -- frequently and properly washing their hands. Barbara Frost is co-owner of Greendale Bilingual Pre-K in Pierrefonds, Que. She has been caring for young children in a school setting for more than 20 years and can't stress enough how important it is to teach kids proper hand-washing techniques.

"Our classroom is set up with a double sink with running water, plenty of antibacterial soap and disposable towels," says Frost. One of the first activities of each school year is modelling the correct way to wash one's hands. "With young children it's best to show, not tell," continues Frost. The kids gather around the sink and she demonstrates -- first wet hands thoroughly and pump lots of soap. Rub hands until they are nice and foamy. Fingers should be spread apart and hands clasped together to get in between. Nails can be cleaned using a small, soft brush.

Another helpful tip to keep hands germ-free is to encourage kids to sneeze or cough into their forearm or sleeve. This also limits the spread of airborne viruses and bacteria.

Read about the top 10 superfoods for kids.

Page 1 of 2 -- On page 2, learn how to protect your child from lice, chicken pox and allergies.

Lice are not nice
Another affliction common among school-aged children is head lice -- voracious little parasites that attach themselves to hair follicles close to the scalp. They feast on skin flakes and spread easily from one child to another. Dr. Graves explains that lice are easy to diagnose, as the child will complain about a very itchy scalp. The critters and their eggs, called nits, can be seen with the naked eye. There are some very effective treatments on the market, but it's important that the whole family follow the regime, and all bedding must be thoroughly laundered. A hot dryer will eradicate lice as well as their stubborn, sticky eggs that, if undefeated, can start the whole life cycle over again.

Frost says that the best way to avoid spreading lice at school is to discourage sharing hats and encourage young kids to store their winter headwear and scarves in the sleeves of their coats. "We have eliminated hats in our dress-up corner and removed the tiny combs and brushes the children would use on dolls' hair as it is tempting to try them out," says Frost. Girls with long hair are encouraged to keep it in a ponytail or braids. Read more about head lice.

Chicken pox
Several years ago a vaccine for chicken pox was approved for use in Canada. Dr. Graves urges parents to immunize every child against this potentially deadly infection. "Some feel it is better for their child to just get the disease like they did," says Dr. Graves, "but what they may not know is that there are sometimes serious side effects. For example, the most common entry point of flesh-eating bacteria in children is infected chicken pox lesions." Every child should be immunized, just as they are for polio and tetanus.

Allergies and anaphylaxis
Today so many children have peanut allergies that most schools forbid bringing peanuts, peanut oil or any product containing even trace amounts into their buildings. It's important to read food labels as many packaged foods are manufactured in plants where cross-contamination may occur. Children with other food allergies must be taught, from a very young age, not to share food. And parents of kids with life-threatening allergic reactions are required to supply the classroom and nurse's station in school with labelled Epi-Pens (a penlike device with a spring-activated concealed needle used to self-administer a dose of epinephrine in an allergic emergency).

Common sense advice from Dr. Graves
To optimize health, kids should eat a variety of nourishing meals and snacks. If they do, then daily multivitamins are unnecessary; the body more readily absorbs essential nutrients from food sources. Children should stay active all year round and maintain a healthy weight. In wintertime, when Canadians are inclined to be more sedentary, get the family out to the skating rink or tobogganing hill. And every little bit counts -- even walking around the block or to the park or corner store instead of hopping in the car can make a difference in physical fitness and all-around wellness.

Page 2 of 2 -- Teach your kids to keep themselves healthy by instilling good hand-washing habits found on page 1.

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Keeping kids healthy at school

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