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Young boy holding a stethoscope to a toy monkey's chest
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With lots of contact with other children at preschool, playgroup and parties, your child is prone to picking up the latest bugs. Usually it’s nothing to worry about. But illness can get worse very quickly in small children, so be aware of signs of sickness.

Signs of serious illness

If your child shows any of these signs, see your doctor. The more of these signs she has, the more serious it’s likely to be:

  • drowsiness (she’s less alert than usual)
  • decreased activity or lethargy (she’s less active and just wants to lie around)
  • breathing difficulty
  • poor circulation (she looks paler than usual, maybe has cold hands and feet).

Always seek urgent medical attention if your preschooler:

  • vomits green fluid
  • has a convulsion (a fit)  
  • stops breathing for more than 15 seconds.
You know your child best. If you have any worries about his health, seek medical advice.

Immunisation

Immunisation is considered essential protection for your preschooler against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). Your child can be immunised by a GP or at child health centre at four years old. Many preschools require your child to be up to date with immunisation.

All children can get a Healthy Kids Check at or around the time of their four-year-old immunisation. The check helps to ensure that children are healthy, fit and ready to learn when they start school.

Doctors and medicine

When your child is feeling under the weather, there’s only one thing you want to do – make her feel better as soon as possible. But sometimes it can be hard to know how to do this. Having good medical care for your child can put your mind at ease, and choosing a doctor ahead of time can save you a lot of worry. Your doctor also plays a critical role in advising you on what kind of medication to give your child and when.

But there might be times when you’re not happy with a doctor’s diagnosis or advice. It’s OK to want a second opinion or to consider changing doctors.

Going to hospital can be very stressful for children, as well as for parents and the rest of the family. Read about how you make hospital visits easier for your child and yourselves.

Common health problems for preschoolers

Lice
These tiny parasites attach themselves to children’s hair, lay eggs and cause lots of itching. They are most common when children start socialising in groups at preschool or school. The best way to remove lice is with a fine-toothed lice comb and lots of cheap conditioner.

Abrasions
Cuts, grazes and scratches are common in preschoolers and can usually be treated at home. But you should see a doctor if:

  • the cut is deep and doesn’t stop bleeding with firm pressure, or is large with rough or jagged edges
  • there’s a lot of dirt, gravel or splinters of wood, metal or glass in there
  • you aren’t sure if your child is up to date with his tetanus immunisation.

Warts
A wart is a small, flesh-coloured, raised growth, mainly appearing on the hands. Warts are usually painless, but as they’re infectious and can spread you should explain to your child that she shouldn’t pick at or chew them. See your doctor if the wart is on her face, feet or genitals, or if the wart looks infected or very red.

Other health issues
Food allergies aren’t as common as you might think. Food intolerances are more common, but they’re not the same as allergies. If you’re not sure why your child is having a reaction, and there’s a chance the reaction could be caused by a food allergy, it’s best to consult your doctor.

Hygiene is important for anyone taking care of children, and is one of the most effective ways we have to protect ourselves – and others – from illness. Swimming pools can be a particular germ risk, so wash your child thoroughly (especially his rear end) with soap and water before swimming to avoid any germs in the pool.

You might like to print out our handy illustrated guide to daily personal hygiene for young children.

Video Viral & bacterial infections in children

This short video is about the incidence and treatment of infections in babies and children. It features paediatrician Dr Con James talking about the differences between viral and bacterial infections. He explains how often urinary tract infections happen in children. He also describes the causes of and treatments for pneumonia, meningitis and dermatitis.
 

For information on other health issues affecting preschoolers, see our A-Z Health Reference.

Teeth

By the time your child is three, all 20 of her baby teeth have come through. The first permanent teeth start appearing when she’s about six. This is the time for wobbly teeth, cheeky toothless grins and, of course, the tooth fairy!

A big part of dental care for your preschooler is brushing teeth properly. He’ll need your help and supervision until he’s at least eight years old. Use a small smear of toothpaste on a soft bristle toothbrush, twice a day (in the morning and before bed at night).

The best way to prevent tooth decay is to go easy on sugary food and drink. Sugar (even the sugar in fruit juice) rots teeth and can actually spoil the appetite for healthy, nutritious food. Solid fruit is better, and water is the best thirst quencher.

Video Dental care for children

This short dental care video shows you how to care for kids’ teeth. It includes advice on encouraging children to drink tap water, brushing children’s teeth as soon as the first ones are through, avoiding sugary drinks, and not taking bottles of milk to bed.
 

Dressing

Your clever three-year-old can probably put on her pants and t-shirt by herself. But it’s not until she’s four or five that she can handle the trickier jobs, like doing up zips and buttoning shirts. Learning to dress herself makes your preschooler very proud. While she’s mastering the art, you might need to allow extra time for getting ready to go anywhere.

Choosing his own outfits gives your child lots of confidence, so try to live with his clashing combinations for now if you can!

You might like to check out our handy illustrated guide to tying shoelaces. It takes you through the steps to teaching your child using the ‘bunny ears’ method.

Toileting

Bedwetting is quite common in preschoolers and school-age children. They can’t control it, and most grow out of it.

Soiling is when children who are past the age of toilet training regularly do poos somewhere other than the toilet. They can’t control when and where the poo comes. This can be very upsetting for children and parents. The main cause of soiling is chronic constipation.

Sun care

For vitamin D, children need a small burst of sun, as little as 15 minutes, each day. In Australia, the sun’s burning UV radiation is strongest from September to April, between 10 am and 3 pm, so try to plan outdoor activities for early morning and late afternoon.

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. Sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat, protective clothing and shade are the best ways to stop sunburn, especially between 10 am and 3 pm.

It’s a good idea to apply sunscreen before you drop your child at preschool so you know she’s protected. Most preschools and schools have an outdoors policy of ‘no hat, no play’ so make sure she takes her hat each day.

You can read more about safety in the sun.

Second-hand smoke

Second-hand smoke is the smoke you breathe in from other people’s cigarettes, cigars or pipes. Your child can even breathe it in from your clothes if you’ve been smoking away from him. Second-hand smoke can cause serious health problems for your child. 

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  • Newsletter snippet: Preschooler health and daily care: what to expect

    By Raising Children Network

    Your preschooler will have her 20 baby teeth by the age of three. She’s learning to dress herself, and needs to wear a sunhat and sunscreen when outdoors. Bedwetting is still common at this age.

    Preschoolers are prone to picking up bugs from other children. It’s good to be aware of signs of sickness as illness can worsen very quickly in small children and require medical attention. Having a doctor you trust can help if you’re worried about your child’s health.

    Common health problems include abrasions, lice and warts. Food allergies aren’t as common as you might think. Hygiene is important for you and your child.

    Four-year-old immunisations cover diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), tetanus and whooping cough.

    Signs of serious illness

    • Drowsiness
    • Lethargy
    • Breathing difficulty
    • Poor circulation
    • Vomiting green fluid
    • Convulsion or fits

    This article is an extract only. For more information, visit  raisingchildren.net.au/health__daily_care/preschoolers_health.html.

    Sourced from the Raising Children Network's comprehensive and quality-assured Australian parenting website, www.raisingchildren.net.au.


 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 12-12-2011