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The long Summer holidays are a great way for families to re-group and re-charge. Breaking free from the usual routine and the hectic schedule of term time can be physically, psychologically and emotionally beneficial. But as you approach the new term it is worth taking a couple of precautionary measures to set your family up for a safe, healthy year
Professor Mike Thomson, Consultant Paediatric Gastroenterologist and Interventional Endoscopist and Professor in Paediatric Gastroenterology, at The Portland Hospital is one of London Medical Concierge’s network of clinical experts. Here he gives parents advice on the main health priorities for school age children:
It is advised that you keep your children up to date with the necessary vaccinations from birth, including the MMR vaccination to protect against mumps and rubella.
The pre-school booster is given around 3 years and 4 months, and protects against polio, whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria. You should be contacted by your GP for this vaccination. The next immunisation “diary date” to be aware of is a 3-in-1 teenage booster, given around the age of 14. A flu vaccination is also recommended for children aged between 2 and 17 years old – especially for those with certain medical conditions or a weakened immune system. Girls are also now encouraged to have the HPV vaccine, two injections six month apart, to protect against cervical cancer between the ages of 12 and 13.
Ninety per cent of people catch the chickenpox virus by the age of 15 and in most cases it is uncomfortable but leaves no lasting effects. Vaccination is currently only available on the NHS for people at high risk of spreading the virus to those with weakened immune systems. The NHS says a routine childhood chickenpox vaccine would raise the risk of more serious infections in adults. However, in a recent news announcement, vaccinations against chickenpox are to be offered on the High Street for the first time.
A recent steep rise in the number of cases of a deadly strain of meningitis in the U.K. has prompted health officials to encourage school leavers to ensure they are vaccinated. In 2009 there were just 22 cases of meningitis W (or “Men W”) but last year the figure had risen to 209. The priority is to vaccinate all teenagers from school year 9, or age 14, onwards before they complete school at 18. Students going to university or college for the first time, including overseas and mature students up to the age of 25, should also contact their GP to have the Men ACWY vaccine, ideally before the start, or in the first few weeks, of the academic year.
Lunch box health
Nutrition is key to keeping kids healthy. A well-balanced diet covering all food groups, with a focus on your “5 a day” of fruit and vegetables, will support children’s general health and wellbeing as they grow. As children return to school, it’s important to get into a good routine, preparing a healthy breakfast to ensure consistent energy levels throughout the day. If you need to make school packed lunches, it’s easy to reach for snacks such as chocolate biscuits and crisps. If time allows, try to plan ahead and stock up on healthy treats such as fresh fruit, cherry tomatoes, cheese, carrot sticks, raisins and other dried fruits. At secondary school, pupils often have access to a wider range of sugary drinks or are tempted to buy sweets or even energy drinks off-site. We’re all allowed the odd treat, but do talk to your children about the long-term health implications of too much sugar such as tooth decay and the risk of conditions such as diabetes.
Good hygiene habits
It is important to show children how to protect themselves from germs. Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to avoid spreading or catching germs. So, make sure you teach your child to wash their hands after using the bathroom and before going to lunch or eating a snack. To make sure younger children have spent enough time on this task, ask them to sing the alphabet song or "Happy Birthday to You" from start to finish as they wash the fronts and backs of their hands and in between fingers. Simple soap and water is best, but hand sanitizers will do when those aren't available.
Stress can lead to a variety of health issues, including insomnia, digestive problems and low immune systems. Transitions in school years or moving to a new school can be difficult for some children to cope with and makes them feel vulnerable and more sensitive than usual. Daily school life throws children many challenges from overwhelming timetables, friendship issues and homework woes - and most children will naturally have worries at some point.
For older children, sometimes parents can overlook how their child is going to cope with the culture shock of a new environment in which they may feel judged on everything from their hairstyle to their weight - worries which can result in a serious loss of confidence and self-esteem.
So, it’s vital that you look out for any signs of stress which could lead to more serious mental health problems, keep talking together to make sure you’re there to support them and seek help from your GP if you are seriously concerned.