Any parent will agree that kids fall sick a lot more often than adults. From common colds and fevers to classic childhood ailments like the measles and chicken pox, many parents feel that they spend a large proportion of their child’s early years either wondering if they are sick or rushing them to a doctor’s waiting room.
However, there are times when some parents’ genuine anxiety about their child’s health can become obsessive. Experts agree that while there’s every reason to monitor your child’s health on an ongoing basis, there’s no reason to press the panic button every time he or she complains of being ill.All in the family
Dr RK Anand, medical director and head of the paediatric department at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital, says parents are more confused these days because very few of them, unlike earlier, have a reliable family physician who would minister to all members of a family.
"Ideally, we should encourage people to choose a good general practitioner (GP)," he explains. "You should only go to a specialist when your family doctor recommends you do so."
That’s because it’s important to keep a patient’s case history. "This will clearly show you that the child has gained height and weight," says Dr Anand. He adds, "These days, there are parents who actually shop for doctors – they keep on trying new ones. What you need to do is to find a medical practitioner that you trust and stick with her or him."
Bite into this
According to Dr Sonu Udani, consultant paediatrician and head of paediatrics, Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai, 25 per cent of parents who come in to see her do so regarding ‘trivial’ issues. “They will complain that their child refuses to eat or that the child tires easily,” she explains. “I even have parents tell me their child refuses to eat rice, as though that is a medical issue. I have to tell them there’s no tablet to make a child eat vegetables or rice.”
According to Dr Udani, a refusal to eat or drink is not always a medical problem. “It can be due to force-feeding or because the mother is constantly after the child to eat,” she explains. “The child then begins to perceive eating as an unpleasant task.”
Dr Udani’s advice in such situations? “Leave the child alone, and gradually the child will get hungry and ask for food. Don’t chase your child, don’t always distract him or her with TV, try and schedule the child’s meal times with the family instead of getting the child to eat alone.”
Also, she adds, don’t get fixated on whether the child is eating this or that food. “How many mothers ate palak willingly when they were kids?” asks Dr Udani. “Remember that children will also have likes and dislikes.” She also advises, “Don’t be too strict or too liberal, and feed your child a special diet. Right from one and a half years, your child should eat regular food being eaten by the family.”
The painful truth
Parents also use terms like ‘my child is weak or lazy’ very loosely, says Dr Udani. “Very often, a child is lazy because he or she wants to be lazy – there is no medical cause for it. The only thing a parent can do to prevent this is to keep the child mentally and physically active. Take the child down to play every day – that helps.”
Another complaint is that the child suffers from aches and pains. “This is again very vague,” explains Dr Udani. “The child will say things like my arm, leg, etc, is paining, often over a long period. I sometimes get patients who have taken their child from doctor to doctor. But a thorough investigation will reveal nothing.”
So parents, relax!
How to entertain a sick child
1. Explain to the child what is wrong and what will happen if he / she isn’t taken care of. Explain that she or he is not being punished and that you have to do this because he or she is sick.
2. Pampering children when they are sick is not advisable. Give them some leeway, but remember it’s also okay to be a little firm about rules.
3. Play simple board games with them to keep them entertained.
4. Let them watch TV for some time, say half an hour.
5. Let them try painting with crayons or pencils; watercolours are okay too.
6. If they are not suffering from a contagious disease, invite friends home – but with rules.
From HT Brunch, September 18
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