Dr Andy Raffles
Winter Health Tips For Your Child In Nursery
Winter is a time for very cold weather, with crisp, cold days, and stunningly beautiful days with potentially lots of ice and snow, which for your child probably means building snowmen, playing out in the snow, possibly even ice skating or even lucky enough to go skiing, and lots of other fun activities. But your child can only enjoy all of this if they stay healthy.
To keep your child healthy during winter, especially during the really cold snaps there are some things you can do to avoid many of this winter’s coughs and colds. As a general health precaution keep adequate supplies of Paracetamol and Ibuprofen at home in the medicine cabinet in preparation for the inevitable temperatures and cold symptoms.
Handwashing is still one of the best ways to eliminate the spread of infections from one surface to another and from one child to another. Encourage your child to pick out a couple of favourite soaps from the local chemist or supermarket. Teach them how to mix the hot and cold water so the temperature is warm rather than bone-chilling cold or scalding hot. Encouraging your children to treat washing time as an extension of play is a great way of getting into good handwashing habits.
Hand sanitiser is a wonderful and effective addition to the arsenal against germs. Keep a bottle in the car so they clean their hands immediately after school or other activities, and before you hand them a snack to eat.
Dressing in layers even on warmer days helps children stay healthier. It's often such a temptation for children to dress too lightly during the winter when the weather is unseasonably warm. Many inside spaces are still cold and drafty, so insisting that your child wear or be able to add a shirt with longs sleeves, and/or a sweater when needed (lots of times on the same day), will go a long way toward keeping them healthy.
Covering their mouths when sneezing or coughing is still high on the list of things to do, and covering with your arm rather than your hand is better. Sneezing and coughing into hands and then touching door handles, light switches, TV remote controls, phones, and other hands just spread the germs. Using a tissue probably keeps hands 50% cleaner.
Keep small boxes of tissues open and ready in every room. Again, let your child help pick out the designs on the boxes. This may seem excessive, but often children (and adults) know they need a tissue, but can't find one. Stock their coat pockets with extra tissues so they are sure to have one on the playground or in your car and when out and about. Having tissues available when they need it is a simple but effective way to stop the spread of germs. I well remember at school the class being rewarded when we all remembered to bring in a tissue or handkerchief!
If your child is unwell, and in particular has a temperature, keep them off nursery.
Your child’s eyes and activity level are good indicators of how unwell your child may be. If your child’s eyes look heavy even though your child is awake, and is content to just sit and be unusually quiet, keep your child home to avoid exposing to yet more infections that your child will certainly encounter in daily activities. This will help the other children in the class or nursery to stay well too. Children's immune systems are generally very robust and your child will bounce back pretty quickly. Your child may need lots of rest, and a diet that includes lots of fluids.
One of the questions commonly asked is whether vitamin supplements in the winter are of any benefit. Generally, all children are well-nourished whether initially breast or bottle-fed. Vitamin deficiencies that are severe enough to cause disease are rare. However it is well documented that in the winter months Vitamin D levels will halve, and especially in dark-skinned children, there is a real risk of developing significant enough Vitamin D deficiency to cause some evidence of rickets.
More importantly, there is growing evidence that Vitamin D is essential for the normal functioning of the immune system, as it seems to act to regulate the immune response, especially important in the possible prevention of autoimmune diseases. Whilst some of this is speculation, increasingly there is good evidence to support the view that it is important to maintain satisfactory Vitamin D levels all year round.
A dose of about 600Units per day is sufficient to prevent significant Vitamin D deficiency in the winter, and can be found in most brands of children’s vitamin drops.