Why We All Need Community Immunity
It can be a big shock for parents to get a notice from their child's daycare or school saying that a child there is sick with a disease like whooping cough or measles. But it could happen more often, especially in Washington state.
Vaccines can prevent outbreaks of diseases and save lives. However, the Washing ton State Department of Health reports that many kindergartners in our state are not fully immunized. Washington has the highest exemption rate in the U.S., meaning that more parents here are choosing to "opt out" of vaccines for their children.
Pediatricians and public health experts here are concerned about a reduction in "community immunity." Community immunity helps slow down and stop the spread of contagious diseases. It happens when most people have immunity to a disease. This is why flu outbreaks are less severe in communities where many people – especially school children who spread flu - have received that year's influenza shot.
For some diseases – including measles – at least nine out of 10 of us must have immunity to keep the disease from spreading. There are two ways to become immune to serious contagious diseases like whooping cough and measles: either by getting the vaccines, or by having already had the disease.
People who can't fight diseases depend on community immunity to protect them. When parents choose to immunize themselves and their children, they are not only protecting themselves, but other at-risk people, including:
- Infants and the elderly who are too young or too old for the shots;
- Pregnant women;
- Children and adults with weak immune systems, such as those on cancer treatment medicines; and
- People who are not fully immunized.
In the words of one parent, "Community immunity is a hot button for me because I have a child with a chronic illness. She cannot afford to get sick."
How can you support community immunity? Immunize your child on time, and be sure that you and your child's caregivers are also immunized. Also, spread the word to friends and neighbors. Help them to understand that diseases like measles are still spread, especially by people traveling outside the country and returning home. Encourage friends and neighbors to learn about the risks of vaccine-preventable disease, the benefits and risks of immunization and to speak with their child's doctor and get their child immunized.
Tips for a Fun and Safe Halloween
Halloween is thrilling for kids of all ages - just be sure fun and safety go hand-in-hand! Before the big event, have your child take a "test run" in their costume, including walking stairs to check for tripping hazards. If the costume has a mask, can your child see clearly and breathe easily? (Non-toxic face paint is often a better choice than a mask.) Review the rules before you head out, such as: stick to the sidewalks, stay with the group, don't run. Remind kids not to enter any homes, and to have an adult check their treats before eating anything. Have a healthy meal before you venture out, and agree ahead of time on how much candy can be eaten that night!
Is Your Child Ready for a Cell Phone?
Cell phones have become such an important and convenient tool in our daily lives, many parents want their child to have one, too. When is the right time for kids to have their own phones? The decision is not tied to a child's age as much as their emotional readiness and maturity. Kids who often forget homework assignments or can't find their cleats on game day probably aren't ready for their own phone. Also, consider your child's activities and lifestyle; do they have a valid need for a phone? If they're often away at practices and other events, or have a health condition, having their own phone may make sense. Many families buy their child a phone sometime around the middle-school years. Before buying, consider options such as phones with prepaid minutes, or those that require a code to dial only approved numbers. Many families find it's very helpful to have their child sign a detailed written agreement. It's a great tool to help parents set specific limits - and enforce them.
The Connection Between Health and Early Learning
Children with untreated health problems can face challenges with early learning. Sometimes they are mislabeled as children with learning disabilities. Proper nutrition, good vision and normal hearing are tools for early learning. They allow young children to pay attention and communicate. And consider the importance of good dental health: Tooth decay can lead to other health problems that affect speaking and eating. It can cause needless pain, which can hurt a child's ability to focus, and may even cause them to miss school.
To keep children healthy and ready to learn, parents and caregivers need to do all they can to ensure that children receive high-quality, ongoing healthcare. Be sure your child has regular medical and dental checkups. Discuss any concerns with your child's doctor.
If your child attends preschool or school with another child you think may suffer from health issues or poor nutrition, mention it in private to a teacher or school nurse. They are trained to direct parents to healthcare and other resources.
Your child's school may need parent volunteers for vision and hearing screenings, or clothing and food drives. Volunteer if you can. We can work together to ensure all young children are healthy and ready to learn!
Visit Education and Learning for articles to help you get your little one ready to learn.
Dressing for the Weather
Cooler fall temperatures and wetter weather mean it's time to give up the summer uniform of shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. Or is it? A common battle between parents and kids centers on dressing warmly enough for the weather. Kids often insist that shorts and no jacket are just fine for frosty days and pouring rain.
So as a parent, should you push the issue? As long as your child is healthy and not medically fragile, this may be one lesson to let them learn from experience. Offer a quick and cheerful suggestion to dress in layers, take a coat, or grab an umbrella. Kids won't catch a cold from getting chilled or wet, but they might get miserable - and they might opt for layers next time!
Learn about the common cold and what really does cause it!
Caffeine and Kids
Caffeine is not a healthy choice for growing kids. But it has a way of sneaking into their diets through chocolate, iced teas, coffee drinks, "energy" drinks and regular sodas. While caffeine does not stunt growth, it does stimulate the central nervous system, speeding up the heart and breathing.
Some kids eat or drink caffeine to feel more awake and alert for school, but the habit can cause problems. Kids who have too much caffeine may have anxiety, dizziness, headaches, stomachaches and sleep problems. Caffeine can also cause your child's body to lose calcium, which is needed for strong bones.
Be sure your child knows which foods and drinks contain caffeine, and agree on how much - if any - is ok.
First Visit, First Birthday
Baby teeth are at risk for tooth decay. Visiting a pediatric dentist by the time your child's first baby tooth appears, or by their first birthday, can reduce the risk of cavities.
Taking good care of baby teeth is so important because these first teeth:
- Allow for proper chewing
- Aid with speech development
- Save space for permanent teeth, allowing them to develop properly
Pain from tooth decay can prevent a child from eating correctly, which impacts overall health and development. Undetected and untreated tooth decay can lead to infection, loss of teeth and expensive and mostly preventable emergency room visits.
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