20 Oktober 2020 | Gesundheit

Putting your child’s health first

As a parent, you focus on making sure you take care of your child's overall health.

Mariselle Stofberg



As a parent, your primary concern is the safety and well-being of your child. This includes not only their physical health, but their mental well-being as well.

Building and strengthening your child’s immune system plays an important role in their general health, and can be approached in various ways.

Dr Steffen Bau, a paediatrician, said starting with a well-balanced diet is the first step in looking after your child’s physical health.

“Generally, well-balanced nutrition is the key aspect. This will ensure adequate weight gain and immune defence. A balanced diet should have everything included, from fruits and veggies to seeds and nuts. You might be familiar with the food pyramid, where daily essentials items that should be taken in big amounts form the base and luxury items like sweets, that should only be consumed occasionally, are at the top,” he said.

Cultivate healthy eating habits

“In order to cultivate healthy eating habits, parents should attempt to create the healthiest environment at home. They are responsible for providing healthy food choices for their children and keeping processed foods and snacks to an absolute minimum,” said Samantha du Toit, a registered dietician and the owner of Lya Nawa Dieticians.

A variety of vegetables, fruits and wholegrains or minimally processed starches, e.g. oats, whole-wheat bread, rice, pasta and maize are daily essentials for good health.

Some low-fat dairy products like two to three cups of milk or yoghurt or two to three blocks of cheese and lean proteins like fish, chicken, eggs and beans are also important.

When children are ill

“When children are ill, it is normal for their appetite to diminish or almost disappear completely. This can last between two to 25 days during an illness,” Du Toit added.

“Parents naturally worry about this and want to try to force children to eat or give them any kind of processed food they know children will eat, but this is not a useful strategy. It is best for parents to make sure their children stay hydrated by offering them a variety of fluids such as water, milk and juices,” she said.

She further added that it is usually easier for children to drink something during illness than to eat. Parents should also offer small amounts of soft foods frequently (e.g. oats or maize porridge, bananas, bread with peanut butter, mashed potato, pasta or yoghurt) during the day, but once again, respect their choice if they refuse to eat.

Once the child is feeling better, the parent can offer additional portions of healthy foods, especially fruits, vegetables, starchy foods and dairy, to make up for the nutrients they lost.

Sport activities

“Enough sport activities also help your children to lead a healthy life. This might be a challenge in times when children are banned from school sports activities and club activities due to the coronavirus, but one can easily keep fit at home with simple exercises or other activities,” Bau said.

Something as simple as a small running challenge between parent and child is a fun activity for smaller children and their parents to do together, he added.

“In addition, children can take vitamins and supplements that boost the immune system for prevention of any kind of viral disease, not just Covid-19. This includes zinc and selenium as well as vitamins C, D and E. A good multivitamin preparation will usually contain all the above in adequate amounts. In addition, some herbal remedies like echinacea preparations can also boost immunity.”

Regular check-ups

Another question often asked by parents is how regularly they need to take their children to the doctor for check-ups.

“This is a difficult question, as health facilities are one of the higher risk places where one can catch infections, including Covid-19. Your healthcare provider will usually attempt to reduce transmission by asking you to only enter when wearing a mask, which is not recommended for children under two years, limiting the number of people in the rooms and cleaning the facility at regular intervals,” Bau said.

Many healthcare providers have their own general check-up guidelines, he added.

“For instance, I only do general check-ups every four months in the first year of life and thereafter only for acute issues or chronic conditions. Other paediatricians will recommend a follow-up visit once a year for the first five years of life. Depending on the lockdown regulations, the regular visits might be held up if we have another stay-at-home order.”

If regulations allow it, the visits that should continue are the ones where children have chronic conditions that require check-ups in certain intervals, and immunisation visits.

Immunisations

The topic of immunisations can often divide opinions. “There are parents who want to immunise against any known disease to man, and those who do not want to immunise or even let the children get the vaccinated for preventable diseases,” Bau said.

“I personally am in favour of vaccines, as I have seen children die from every single one of the diseases that could be prevented with vaccines. Vaccines have been extensively tested and despite much misinformation about vaccines, such as causing issues like autism, none of these claims have ever been scientifically proven.

“The vaccines that are given in the first two years of life are what we call conjugated to a bigger molecule (usually tetanus toxoid), which makes them effective targets in small kids with a still immature immune system and can lead to very good immunity at a young age,” he added.

In Namibia, nearly every health facility has their own protocol on which vaccines should be administered at which age, Bau said.

He adds that a small group of professionals have been attempting to come up with a unified schedule for the past two years. This should hopefully be realised soon as there are only some small obstacles left to overcome.

“For most kids, vaccinations will happen at the following ages: At birth, six weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks, nine months or one year (depending on which vaccines are available), 15 and 18 months. Thereafter at five to six years and 10 to 12 years again.”

Protecting your child from Covid-19

The protection against Covid-19 is wearing a mask and/or shield in public, practicing social distancing and hand hygiene, washing hands for 20 seconds, particularly before meals or after touching potentially contaminated surfaces.

“One item we have seen used frequently in all kinds shops by everyone who enters is the pen people use to write their details in the attendance register. If not cleaned after every contact, such pens can cause the transmission of Covid-19.

Having your own pen when you go to shops and having 70%-alcohol hand sanitiser with you can reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19. Furthermore, shopping without small children, especially, reduces the risk of them running around and touching all kinds of surfaces,” Bau said.

Small children tend to be less of a risk to others, as they cannot create aerosols when coughing, whereas adults are a higher risk.

“For their social well-being, they might benefit from small play dates at one of the children’s home. However, this is up to the discretion of the respective families. Also, video-conferencing can help children to keep in touch,” he said.

Investing in your child’s mental health

It is just as important for a parent to invest in their child’s mental well-being. Dr Anina du Toit is a clinical psychologist at Let’s Talk Psychology and provided some tips and advice on things you can do to invest in your child’s mental health:

• Encourage your child to engage in conversation

• Provide a positive environment for your child in which they can thrive

• Be aware of signs and symptoms of mental or emotional struggling

• Make sure you take the time to listen to your child

• Help your child with effective problem-solving

• Help your child learn some simple coping skills, such as relaxation

• Educate yourself about mental health problems

• Be patient. Don’t pressure your child

• Tell your child that you are proud of them

• Get to know your child’s feelings

• Don’t be afraid to seek help from professionals

• Be there for your child and show care and love

• Encourage play, exercise and sport

• Keep an eye out for any behavioural changes

• Help your child manage stress by ensuring some rest time.

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