How to prevent minor health problems

Simple strategies for keeping your kids healthy all year

Funny how a little nuisance, such as a runny nose or constipation, can make children (and parents!) miserable. But you can keep your kids content by warding off minor health problems before they start. Here’s how.

Lice
Don’t let kids share hats, helmets, brushes, combs, hair bands or pillows. Periodically check your child’s head for nits if he has an itchy scalp: An infestation is easiest to cope with when caught early!

Athlete’s foot
Encourage kids to wear flip-flops in public showers and change rooms. They should also towel-dry feet after swimming, then slip on sandals or cotton socks and shoes.

Carsickness
Place kids where they can see over the front seat and out the window (use a booster seat until your child reaches age nine, is 1.4 m (4 ft, 9 in) tall or 36 kg (79 lb), and ditch the DVDs and books in favour of audiobooks, music, a game of I spy and other distractions that let kids gaze at the horizon. A light snack (crackers, for instance) about an hour before you leave may also help. Try giving chronically carsick kids a dose of over-the-counter anti-nausea medicine, such as Gravol, about 30 minutes before departure. (Note: Check with your doctor about dosing if your child is under two.)

Colds and flu
Teach kids to wash or sanitize hands after coughing, sneezing or nose wiping and before eating, and to toss tissues after one use. No tissue handy to cover a cough or sneeze? Get sleeve-savvy: Bury your nose and mouth in your forearm or shoulder. For kids over six months, a flu jab each fall can also help fend off this nasty infection. And if you have a younger baby, or you’re expecting, stick it to the flu yourself: Vaccinating mom and the rest of the family will reduce your baby’s chances of catching the bug.
Constipation

Make friends with fibre-rich foods, such as whole-grain breads, beans, fruits and vegetables, and remind kids to drink enough fluids (preferably water). And get off the couch — if you all get moving, so will your bowels!

Diarrhea
To keep stomach bugs at bay, get your child to wash his hands after using the toilet, before eating and after handling pets or foods like raw poultry — and make sure his caregivers do the same. Sugary drinks can cause loose stools, so limit juice and pop to eight ounces per day.

Ear infections
Following the same rules for “Colds and Flu” cuts the odds of this painful problem too. Ditto for flu and pneumococcal shots, so keep your child’s vaccinations up to date. Make sure your home is smoke-free, and avoid letting your baby bottle-feed while lying down.

Pinkeye
Cold germs can spread to the eyes, causing this itchy, icky infection. So if you must dab your child’s eye after wiping her nose, use a fresh tissue.

Skin infections
Wash sports equipment and uniforms, and clean or disinfect gear after every practice and game. And don’t share items like towels and washcloths. Use Band-Aids on any open sores or scratches.

Urinary tract infections
Teaching girls to wipe from front to back after bowel movements helps reduce the likelihood of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Remind busy toddlers to take regular bathroom breaks. Not going frequently enough may increase their odds of UTIs by preventing their little bladders from emptying completely.

Warts
Keep warts covered with Band-Aids (or even duct tape, in a pinch!) to prevent them from spreading from one part of the body to another.

Thank you to our panel of experts:

Fabian Gorodzinsky
Spokesperson, Canadian Paediatric Society
paediatrician
London, Ont.

Elizabeth Shaw
Co-chair, Joint Action Committee on Children and Adolescent Health,
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
family physician
Hamilton, Ont.

Cathie Walker
Manager, Infectious Disease Control,
Middlesex-London Health Unit
London, Ont.

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