Thursday, 18 October 2012

When kids are sick...

No, this is not a medical column, and the following are general comments not medical advice. And it is not talking about children who suffer from life threatening conditions, just every day sorts of sickness like colds and tummy upsets.

When I was young, as all great stories start, parents were generally unsophisticated in their medical knowledge.  There was no internet, some families possessed books like an 'encyclopedia of family health' but many people relied on home remedies, old wives' tales and common sense.  Many children suffered severe illnesses like cancer and heart disease but the medical and pharmaceutical knowledge of the time meant that their lives were often shortened and they lived as invalids.  So in many ways, they were the bad old days.

Today with improved knowledge and communication we seem to have become much more health aware.

As parents, nannies and childcare workers we do all in our power to foster children's health by


When our children our sick, often our common sense flies out the window.
  • Baby has a sniffle
  • Littlie has diarrhoea  or vomits
  • Munchkin has a temperature
Off to the doctor we go, expecting the magic potion, the instant miracle.

Now there can be many factors behind this:

  • we don't want our little one to suffer or to be out of sorts
  •  we are also fearful this might be the start of something worse
  • we are frustrated because a sick child means someone may have to stay home from work to care for the child, or emergency care arrangements made
  • we may feel guilty that somehow we haven't taken good enough care of our child
  • we are still learning what is normal for children.
I am not saying "don't go to the doctor", nor am I saying to ignore a child who is unwell or has injured him/her self.

What I am saying is to keep a sense of perspective.  We are comfortable to put a sticking plaster on a child with a scrape on the knee, give a kiss and say 'all better now', yet will get medical attention if there is a lot of bleeding or it hurts a child to move a limb.  The number of parents who now attend paediatric first aid courses is partly responsible for this commonsense approach.  In the same way we need to learn to distinguish between minor illnesses that need a quiet time on the sofa in front of TV and those that are serious.  That may require using your doctor and maternal and child health nurses to help you gain confidence in your judgement.  I would also recommed reading and perhaps copying for reference this excellent article by Professor Frank Oberklaid and Doctor Leah Kaminsky.

Over the top reactions to children who feel unwell may result in children learning to use illness as an attention seeking device.  This can mean that attendance at kindergarten or school is disrupted unnecessarily, and the development of unhealthy attitudes to sickness.  We all have times when we are unwell and need a little extra care and comfort, but some people have learnt to manipulate others through their sickness. When children are unwell stay calm, reassure the child and provide  toys, books and games to help pass the time.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Adults in children's play

In  a previous post  I spoke of the importance of play as a means for children to learn about their world, about relationships and about values.

But do you play with children, or supervise children while they play?

What is the difference?

Playing with children means entering their world, engaging with them as they play, as a companion and fellow playmate.

Supervising children as they play means staying on the outer, observing and intervening when necessary so that participants have turns, resources are shared and safety is ensured.

I often hear parents say that their children have lots of toys but they rarely play with them.

There might be a number of reasons for this.

The toys:
  • may not be appropriate for their age
  • may require two or more participants to be used meaningfully
  • may take too much time and effort to be put together to be played with.
The children:
  •  may not have learnt how to play, to relax and use their levels of skill and imagination for pleasure
  • may need adult attention and interaction to guide them.
 On the other hand, perhaps parents, nannies and carers can expect too much of children, expecting them to play quietly and independently for long periods, which some times can be rephrased as 'keeping themselves occupied'.

Some children are much better at independent play than others, and will lose themselves either alone or with a companion, in their own world of imagination or role play, with cars or blocks or dolls' houses, in the sand pit, in their bedrooms or all over the lounge.  These children do not need adult involvement in their play, but simply supervision if the play suddenly becomes rough, or unfair, often signs that it has lost its appeal.  And of course, adults may need to remind the participants about tidying up afterwards.  After the play period, it can be useful to ask the child(ren) about the activity and to talk about how they played and what they might want to do next time, as well as an appreciative comment on the way that they played eg thoughtfully, imaginatively, quietly or whatever is appropriate.

Other children are more sociable and like to engage another person, child or adult, in their play.  For these children in particular, it is necessary for adults to learn how to participate, engaging in both the play and also ensuring that turns are taken, resources are shared and all are kept safe.  This is a case of simultaneously acting like a child and an adult, and is a valuable skill to learn.

In this type of play, as a participant the adult can often draw out from the child(ren) responses that will increase the learning value of the play: counting the number of pieces, commenting on their colours, sizes and shapes, but not to the detriment of the child(ren) having fun.  Again at the end of the play period, it is useful to make appreciative comments on the way they played.

Some facts for adults to learn about play include:
  • Play with out some mess and untidiness not real play. Tidy up before starting a new activity.
  • Children only have relatively short attention spans.  Watch for signs of restlessness and move on to another activity.
  • Play is a preparation for life.  The child does not always have to win, nor does the biggest always have to get his or her own way.
  • Play has to be fun and enjoyable.  If it's not fun, it's not play.
We often post play activities, and links to websites with play as their focus on our Facebook page.  Follow these links and you will be enriched in your play with children, and your supervision of children's play.