In this time when children’s health is of particular concern, we asked Healthy Child celebrity editor Dr. Ranj Singh for his thoughts about coronavirus and the vital issues in child health and safety today
In the current coronavirus pandemic, the health and safety of our children is a top priority, and we must all follow the advice we’re given on hygiene and social distancing. But there’s also a mental health aspect to the situation which perhaps isn’t discussed enough. How should we talk to our children about coronavirus, and what particular anxieties might they have in this sort of situation?
“The world that our children live in has become very different since the pandemic started, and that has left them with lots of questions. Exactly what they are worried about will depend on the age and understanding of your child, so always tailor your conversation to them individually.
“However, always be honest, accurate and admit when you may not know everything, but offer to find out more and have another conversation at a later time.
“Pre-school-aged children will need information and reassurance in a simple, straightforward way. They are unlikely to be watching the news or social media, but will need a simple explanation of what the virus is and that it can make some people very poorly.
See also: Coronavirus Deaths: Are the Statistics All Wrong?
Duty of care
“However, the vast majority of people will be OK and we all have a duty to look after each other. This leads nicely into the conversation about why they may not be able to go to school like before, why hand washing and distancing measures are so important, and why they may not be able to see friends and family quite so much.
“School-aged children will have a better understanding of what is going on around them so it is worth asking them what their questions and concerns are. There are lots of resources online for them to learn about what the virus is and what a pandemic means.
Follow the rules
“However, it’s important to emphasise that this is nothing new and will not be forever. Things will start to get back to normal, but we have to all follow the rules in the meantime to make sure that happens.
“Teenagers will mostly have an adult level of understanding and may have read or heard things in the news or online that may or may not be accurate. It’s useful to go through what their views and feeling are and to correct or reassure as required. They are likely to have a greater need for social connection, so it might be a good idea about how they can explore that safely whilst in lockdown.
As we write the coronavirus crisis means that schools are shut and many children are spending more time at home than they’re used to. In this situation or indeed in the long holidays it’s important that health and safety at home remains a priority. Can you give us some general advice on home health and safety?
“There are three key areas that need to be addressed when it comes to home safety. Firstly, try to make your environment as safe as possible. This means putting hazards out of easy reach (e.g. chemicals, bleach, cleaning products, hot items like irons and straighteners, sharp items like knives etc.), securing cupboards with child locks, installing stair gates, and making sure that blinds and cords are secure and out of the way.
“Secondly, supervision is key. If you have small children then make sure they are adequately supervised especially when in the bath or when they are eating, or even when they might pick up something and put it in their mouth that could be a choking risk.
First aid tips
“Finally, know what to do in the event of a common emergency. My top five first aid tips would be:
1) Most bumps and bruises will be fine to be looked after at home, but if you are worried or your child becomes unwell definitely seek medical advice.
2) Burns require immediate cooling down under a cool tap for at least 20 minutes and then seek medical advice if you’re worried.
See also: World Health Organisation Recognises Airborne Coronavirus Danger
3) If your child accidentally swallows a household chemical or medication then definitely seek medical advice straight away. Do not encourage them to vomit as this could be harmful.
4) If your child may have broken a bone, immobilise the injury (place it in a sling if you can), get them to take some painkillers and take them to A&E for assessment.
5) If your child is choking, remain calm and encourage them to cough it out. If they are unable to and are struggling to breathe, then you’ll have to start back slaps and either chest thrust or abdominal thrusts to get the object out. Learn exactly what to do by visiting the St. John Ambulance website or taking a first aid course.
“The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has lots of free information on their website about how to prevent and deal with home hazards.”
Benefits of vaccination
Vaccination remains a key health issue, but there still seem to be problems getting across the message that it is an essential for child health. Why is vaccination so important and what can we do to promote it?
“Vaccination has been one of medicine’s biggest advances and has undoubtedly saved countless lives. It has been so successful in eradicating diseases, that many of us (in more developed countries) have forgotten the conditions that it prevents. If anyone has doubts as to why vaccines are important, look at how meningitis vaccines have led to a significant reduction in this awful condition, and saved numerous lives.
“We as medical professionals see how important they are, but communicating that to parents and carers isn’t always easy.
“As with any medical intervention, vaccines can have side effects. Some of these are completely unpredictable. Fortunately, the vast majority of people will not experience anything serious and so the benefits of vaccination far outweigh any adverse effects.
“Improving rates of immunisation is about educating people as to why they are important, answering questions and providing information that is honest, open and accurate (the Oxford Vaccine Project website does this really well), and making sure that people have access to immunisation programmes.
“The pandemic has meant that vaccination schemes have had to be paused temporarily, and some people have been reluctant to attend appointments, however this is something we should not miss because we may end up dealing with conditions that are much riskier than coronavirus. There is a serious concern that we may see the resurgence of disease like measles because people have missed their immunisations.
Children are at the lowest risk of coronavirus, but they are at serious risk from other illnesses and conditions that have been around long before. Health care settings are also extra vigilant now to reduce the risk to any of their patients, so people should feel confident seeing their doctor or nurse if required.
So I would encourage everyone who has missed an appointment, for whatever reason, to organise another one ASAP so that they aren’t at extra risk.
Looking forward to the summer holidays, it’s always fun to get out in the sun, but we have to be sensible about our health and that of our children while we’re on holiday. Could you give us some tips for travelling, relaxing and enjoying the sun, the beach and the snow in safety?
“Preparing for every eventuality whilst on holiday is impossible, but it’s a good idea to have the basics covered.
“Depending on where you are going, some useful things to pack include: sunscreen (minimum SPF30 with at least 4 stars UVA protection), oral rehydration sachets (for tummy upsets), anti-allergy medication (e.g. antihistamine cream and medicine), pain and fever medication (e.g. paracetamol and ibuprofen), and plasters/bandages.
“Obviously don’t forget any medication your child takes regularly – you may need to carry a doctor’s letter for certain ones so check with your GP.
“If you are visiting a hot place, make sure you apply sunscreen regularly, take regular breaks in the shade, and stay hydrated to prevent heat stroke or dehydration.
“If children are playing on the beach or near water like a swimming pool, make sure they are adequately supervised at all times. If they go in the water then never leave them unsupervised.
“Many people don’t realise that snow can reflect the sun back and cause sunburn, so don’t forget to cover up and use sunblock too. Be careful with regards to snow-related injuries too. If you think your child has broken something then give them some painkillers and get medical advice straight away.”
Read more from Dr Ranj Singh in the current issue of Healthy Child, on sale now from WHSmith and all good newsagents, and online here.