“The greatest wealth is health,” said the Roman poet, Virgil. It’s the responsibility of parents to pass on this wealth to their children. Here’s how they can help their children in health management.
By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj
A few days before my class 10 board exams, I came down with chickenpox. My temperature was quite high, and, with each blister popping out, it was both itchy and painful. At that time, my brother was taking his class 12 board exams. At first, everyone panicked at home. But soon, my mother got things under control. After taking me to a doctor to bring my temperature down, she ensured that I was isolated from the others at home – in a cool room with a neem leaf mattress and cushions. Tender coconut water, fruits and a bland diet kept my energy levels up. Members of my family, cousins who stayed next-door were all given sugar-coated balls of neem paste and turmeric to gulp down. Mom and Dad took turns reading lessons to me. The result – both my brother and I passed with distinctions; no one caught the contagious chickenpox from me! Now, wasn’t that good health management on my mother’s part?
Managing health doesn’t only mean taking care of your child when she is ill; it also means ensuring that your child enjoys good health all the time.
Lack of health affects
1. Managing sleep routines: Adequate sleep tops the list of health care tips for all. For children, sleep requirements vary, depending on their age. While babies sleep for almost 16 hours a day, toddlers need 12-14 hours. Likewise, while young children between the ages of 3 and 12 need 10-12 hours, older children need 8-9 hours. Encourage your child to go to bed early and wake up early. Let him also have regular sleep schedules – going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day.
2. Managing food habits: The eating patterns that get set during childhood go a long way in ensuring well-being during adulthood. Let your child realise that we get the energy to perform our daily activities from the food we eat. Discuss nutritive values of various vegetables and fruits with her. If your child dislikes a particular food item, say greens, list out its benefits to her. Reward wise food choices and provide healthy alternatives to junk food. For example, how about a ‘dozza’ in place of a pizza? You should also ensure that your child drinks adequate amounts of water to stay hydrated and to flush out toxins from the body.
3. Managing weight: Is your child underweight or obese? A balanced diet consisting of essential nutrients will address these issues. Avoid junk food, draw up a diet chart and ensure that your child has enough physical activity.
4. Making healthy lifestyle choices: The way we lead our life determines our health. Making smart food choices is just one way of doing it. Letting your child actively participate in sports and limiting his screen time (TV, DVD, PSP, iPad, computer) are significant steps in managing health. A sedentary lifestyle will not help at all.
5. Developing healthy personal habits: Teach your child the importance of forming healthy habits - brushing the teeth twice a day, rinsing the mouth after eating and washing hands (this is the best defence against infections) before eating, after playing outside and after using the washroom. Teach him how to cough and sneeze, and blow his nose using tissues in such a manner that he does not pass on infections to others.
6. Avoiding stress: We all know that stress affects health. Today, like adults, children too face a lot of stress thanks to high expectations and stiff competitions. Often children fall ill before exams because of undue stress. Make sure that your child relaxes by engaging in a hobby. You can also go on family outings and trips from time to time to de-stress.
7. Managing allergies: The most frustrating thing for parents is to tackle their child’s allergies. The first step here would be to identify the triggers or allergens and to keep the home environment free of them. The common allergens are dust, pets, pests, pollen, smoke, cooking fumes and aerosol sprays. Certain food items too can cause allergies. Once you identify them, ensure that your child doesn’t eat them even while sharing food with friends.
8. Managing specific health conditions: If your child has been diagnosed with a specific health condition such as juvenile diabetes or asthma, then you should first educate yourself on the condition. Talk to your doctor, to parents of other children who have this condition and read literature relating to this condition. Help your child to follow the dos and don’ts strictly by making necessary lifestyle adjustments. Keep a sufficient stock of prescribed medicines handy.
9. Managing ailments: When your child falls ill, avoid sending him to school. Follow the doctor’s advice in giving medicines and diet. You should neither feed the child forcibly nor starve him. If the child has continuous fever, monitor his temperature and mark it on a chart. Learn to identify symptoms correctly and convey them to the paediatrician. This will help in diagnosis.
10. Managing pain, burns and injuries: Children can be easily involved in minor accidents and injure themselves. As a parent, you should be prepared to handle such emergencies. If your child has a cut, bruise or wound, wash the area with clean water. Then dab it dry with a piece of clean cloth and apply antiseptic cream. Cover the wound lightly with sterilised gauze. For minor burns, run cool tap water on the burns. Then apply burns cream or silver sulfadiazine cream. Check with your doctor for tetanus shots. For major burns, take your child to the hospital immediately. If your child complains of pain in any limb after a fall, check for swelling. That could indicate a fracture. If not, it could be a sprain or strain. No matter what it is, ensure your child does not move the limb much until you reach a hospital.
11. Exercising caution in using medical information: Often, adults resort to Internet searches to know more about ailments. Though it may be good to educate yourself, you should use such information with caution. Do not rely on such sources to administer medicines to your child. Also, do not use old prescriptions or over-the-counter pills. Nothing can substitute the advice of a medical expert.
12. Setting health goals: This is another major step to enjoying good health. Plan to spend less time before the television and other gadgets, target a certain number of servings of vegetables and fruit per day/week and set aside a specified number of minutes each day for outdoor exercise. Paste your goals on the kitchen/refrigerator door to motivate you and your family.
13. Integrating health and learning: Let your child learn to count while skipping, to identify bird calls on nature walks and to identify colours of different food items while eating. Now, isn’t that a double bonanza for your child – good health and education?
14. Maintaining medical history: Have a file with all medical records of your child - blood group, history of allergies, ailments, medical reports, laboratory tests, immunisation schedules, check-ups, review dates, etc. This will serve as ready reference during any medical emergency.
15. Managing health care costs: With rising medical care costs, it is essential that you take medical insurance cover for yourself and your children. This will ensure that there is no strain on the family budget, especially when it comes to the treatment of major ailments.
The greatest blessing that we can bestow on our children is good health. So, let our children have this blessing in abundance.
Validated by Dr R Kannaiyan, MD, Consultant General medicine and critical care, Apollo Hospitals
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Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj