KEEPING OUR KIDS HEALTHY
This month, we present the first part of our special report on kids’ health, looking at the infant and primary years.
When it comes to the health of our community nothing is more important than making sure our kids get a good start in life so they become healthy adults into the future. Here’s some advice on what to look out for when it comes to childhood illnesses, as well as some simple things you can do to keep your kids fit for life. These top health tips for parents were advised by two Indigenous doctors, Dr Tammy Kimpton and Dr Mark Wenitong.
AGE 0-5 – THE EARLY YEARS
From the minute children are born they are exposed to illnesses and germs and it is during their first five years that they build their immune system and develop the basic bodily functions, such as digesting, walking, talking and thinking. With so much going on so quickly, it’s little wonder that they’re often fighting off one infection or another. As a mother to three children under the age of five, Dr Tammy Kimpton is somewhat of an expert when it comes to sleep deprivation, early childhood illnesses and balancing work and family life. She’s also passionate about making sure our mob get the best care possible. Here, she explains what the most important things are to look out for in this exciting but fragile period of your child’s life.
COUGHS, COLDS AND THE LIKE: Runny noses, sore throats, coughs and colds – unfortunately they’re all part of growing up. Getting sick is one way that infants build their immunity, so it’s not always a bad thing however it is important to keep an eye on any illness your child has and to take them to your local health worker or doctor if you are worried.
“Children are going to get around six to eight infections or illnesses a year; if they are in childcare that number can rise to 12 to 20,” says Dr Tammy. “The things children in this age group get repeatedly are respiratory tract infections and Otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear), which sort of go together. It can seem like they’re continually sick and if they get a post-viral cough, it can seem like they are coughing continuously for up to six months. It’s important to see a doctor if your child has a high temperature that doesn’t come down with the normal things that you do or if you notice any ooze coming out of their ears or nose that’s a particularly mucky colour.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Make sure your children are not exposed to cigarette smoke or pollutants. Breastfeeding where possible will help build your child’s immune system. It is recommended that you breastfeed for at least six months if you are able to. When your child is old enough to eat solids, make sure they are eating a good, balanced diet.
“To stay healthy and grow strong, children need good, healthy food with lots of different colours of fruits and vegetables. They also need a bit of meat or protein and wholegrains. It is also very important that they get some exercise, even when they are an infant – at least an hour of running around a day – where they are playing actively,” says Dr Tammy.
ACCIDENTS DO HAPPEN: When your child is an infant they are developing all their motor skills, which gives them the ability to walk, jump and generally do all the physical things we take for granted as an adult. Unfortunately, while they are learning these skills they can be prone to bumps and bruises.
“Accidents are a big issue in this age group because as they learn to walk they are more likely to fall and even when they are learning to crawl, they start climbing things and falling off things. Not all of those injuries need to be attended to, but if your child has bumped their head you would probably need to go to the doctor just to make sure they’re okay. Broken bones are not particularly likely from these types of falls, but once again if you are unsure at all see your doctor.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Try to childproof your home as much as possible by putting sharp objects up high and putting childproof locks, which you can buy from most hardware stores, on any cupboards. Also, once your child is crawling and getting into everything make sure you keep anything that could possibly be poisonous out of reach, including cleaning products and medicines.
VACCINATIONS: The first two years of your child’s life is when it is recommended that they get the bulk of their vaccinations. If you are vaccinating your child make sure that you get all of the follow-up injections to ensure your child is not open to infections.
“It’s important to stay up to date with your vaccinations,” says Dr Tammy. “We vaccinate against respiratory illnesses, gastro and some of the common things that babies can get so in that first year of life there are a lot of needles. Because there are so many it can be really easy to miss one by a week or so and that can put the rest out – so staying up to date is very important. If you aren’t up to date it doesn’t mean that the vaccinations are less effective, but it does mean that your child might get one of the infections because they are not fully immunised.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you are vaccinating your child, stay up to date with the vaccination program.
“If you have missed an injection don’t worry: your doctor or health care worker will be able to work out a schedule to get you back on track,” says Dr Tammy
RASHES: Babies can often get nappy rash and heat rash and a whole host of other unexplainable rashes – so when should you worry and when do you just put on the nappy-rash cream?
“It’s always best to see a doctor about a rash if, for any reason, you are worried about it,” says Dr Tammy.
“Doctors are most concerned about rashes that don’t blanch (fade away) when you press on them, as these rashes may be a sign of something more serious.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you are worried about your child’s rash there is a simple test you can do at home to check whether it is potentially a problem.
“If you hold a clear glass over the rash and press down on it and it doesn’t go away it’s not a blanching rash so you need to see doctor. But any rash is worth having a doctor take a look at as early treatment can stop rashes becoming more painful for your child.”
SLEEPING AND BREATHING: Most mums and dads are happy when their baby is sleeping soundly, but having a baby that sleeps too much is not always a good thing.
“A baby that’s not as awake or alert as normal definitely needs to be seen by a doctor,” says Dr Tammy. “Also any baby who looks like they’re struggling to breathe (the skin between their ribs is drawn in when they try to breathe or their belly is working hard), see your doctor. There’s no shame in going to the doctor because you are a little bit worried.”
PLAYTIME: Kids love to play and that is a good thing. Play helps them to develop not only their physical skills but also their social skills. So make sure you take time to play with your kids. If they don’t have siblings, it is also a good idea to join a playgroup where they can learn to interact with children of the same age.
“Social play is really important,” says Dr Tammy. “Children need someone to be reading to them, interacting with them and encouraging them with social play.”
AGE 6-12 – THE PRIMARY-SCHOOL YEARS
Getting early treatment and following simple health guidelines can not only help your kids fight off the inevitable childhood illnesses they will get, but also help them to avoid any major health problems in the future. Dr Mark knows all about parenting, having raised four children of his own and being the proud grandparent of five. He is currently the Senior Medical Officer at Apunipima Cape York Health Council. Here, he explains some of the most common health problems facing primary-school aged children in our communities, as well as some simple tips to ensure your kids stay healthy.
NUTRITION – WHAT YOUR KIDS EAT: We’ve all heard that kids need to eat right to stay healthy both physically and mentally – but why is it so important?
“When your child was an infant, good nutrition was important as their brains were developing,” says Dr Mark.
“But by primary-school age, your child’s cognitive development (thinking) is pretty much developed. Nutrition is still vital, however, as at this age your child’s diet to affects things like their ability to concentrate. It is difficult to focus on schoolwork if your kids don’t have the right food in their bellies.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT: A good breakfast is extremely important and many schools now have a breakfast club to make sure kids start the day off right. If your school doesn’t have a breakfast club why not think about starting one? Local businesses will often sponsor the clubs and help pay for a healthy brekkie for everyone.
“If kids are getting a balanced diet their immune system can fight off infections a lot better, whereas if they have a poor diet they will get everything under the sun,” says Dr Mark.
“Kids need to follow a food-pyramid kind of diet, which means getting plenty of fruit and vegies, a bit of protein, wholegrains and not too many sugary or fatty foods. Avoid sugary drinks and instead drink more water and basically eat more of the more boring foods – it can be a big ask sometimes with kids, but as a parent that’s what you need to do.”
HYGIENE – THREE BIG REASONS TO KEEP YOUR KIDS CLEAN: Oral health, ear health and rheumatic fever are all common in primary-school aged children. But the good news is there is something you can do about it. Here are some simple hygiene health practices to help prevent these common health problems.
ORAL HEALTH: Having healthy teeth means your kids have a great smile but it can also affect their health in general.
“When we do child-health checks in our clinics, 60-70 per cent of children have problems with their teeth, such as gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) or something related to that. While these may not seem like a big deal, they are the kinds of infections that can have an impact on chronic diseases later in life,” says Dr Mark.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT: “One of the things that causes dental problems is poor nutrition which can also cause chronic diseases later in life like diabetes and heart disease. So once again it’s important to make sure your kids are eating right. The other thing is poor dental hygiene. That’s why it’s important to teach kids about hygiene and how to keep themselves clean, as knowing how to brush and floss your teeth correctly can help with oral care.”
EAR HEALTH: Poor hearing will not only affect your kid’s health, but it can also affect their grades at school and impact on their future opportunities.
“Many of our kids have recurrent ear infections, which can result in poor hearing. If kids are not treated and get recurrent infections, then this can affect their hearing longterm. Not being able to hear properly will impact on their schooling and, later, on their employment.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT: “Your child may need to have a grommet put in. These are little plastic drainage tubes that help to get rid of glue ear, which is the pus behind the eardrum. They also help relieve pressure, pain and inflammation, which makes it easier to treat the ear infection. Good hygiene can also help prevent ear infections, as well as teaching your kids simple things, such as how to blow their nose properly to clear their tubes and prevent the infection going into their ear.”
RHEUMATIC FEVER: A simple sore throat can be a sign that something more serious is happening, such as rheumatic fever. As always it’s important to talk to your health worker or doctor if you are at all concerned about your child’s health.
“It is important not to ignore common infections that kids can pick up at school, such as coughs, colds, skin sores and sore throats, as these can be caused by a germ that causes rheumatic heart fever. If left untreated, rheumatic heart fever can lead to rheumatic heart disease later in life, which our community, unfortunately has one of the highest incidents of in the world.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT: “Rheumatic fever mostly comes from a strep throat, so if a child has a sore throat it’s important to take them to the doctor, particularly if you live in a community where there is a lot of rheumatic fever. It can also come from sores on the skin, so it is important to teach your kids how to clean their skin properly to stop the spread of skin infections.”
KIDS HAVE TO MOVE IT MOVE IT
When it comes to health, exercise is vital to staying fit both mentally and physically, whether you are eight or 80.
“A healthy life always consists of some exercise and kids will mostly exercise naturally when they play. Having said that, while we have lots of underweight kids in our communities we also have some overweight kids, so it’s important to ensure they’re getting out and playing sports. Even if they don’t like things like footy, the idea is to get them outside doing something they enjoy, such as riding their bikes, to increase their physical activity,” says Dr Mark.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE
While it may not be true that “all you need is love”, without it, kids are unlikely to thrive as human beings. If kids are emotionally or psychologically stressed that will eventually also affect their physical health – so remember: kids can never have too many cuddles.
“One of the big things we come across with kids in this age-group is psychological issues, so it’s important that we protect them from trauma as they’re growing up. That includes things like parents being careful not to argue in front of their kids and always providing a nurturing environment that’s positive and supportive. Ensuring kids know they’re loved is absolutely vital through all age groups. Hug them heaps and provide really positive feedback about things like how they’re doing at school to reinforce to them what good kids they are.”