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Kath Dickson Family Centre

Serving, protecting and empowering families since 1975

serving, protecting and empowering families since 1975serving, protecting and empowering families since 1975

Kath Dickson Family Centre Blog

Recognising the signs of illness in young children

Samfya Smith - Thursday, May 11, 2017
It’s a familiar scene for parents of young children. In the early hours of the morning, you’re pacing the floor with a crying baby or toddler, and in desperation you say, ‘If only you could just talk and tell me what’s wrong’.

The early childhood experts at Kath Dickson Family Centre shares some tips for recognising signs and symptoms of illness in young children.

How can you tell whether your child may have come in contract with a virus? Perhaps at the Playgroup a few days ago there was a case of chickenpox? How can you predict that you may all be in for a rough night? There are some common signs that your baby or toddler may be starting to feel unwell.

Usually young children’s behaviour changes when they are feeling unwell. These behavioural changes are the signs that children are not feeling their usual self. These signs could include:
crying more than usual
not wanting to join in play experiences
whining
irritability and whinging
listlessness
demanding more attention than usual
regressing (behaving as a younger child)

While this is not a comprehensive list, as each child is an individual and will present in different ways, the list could be a good starting point when looking at a child.

Remember that we, as adults, have a good command of language to communicate how we feel. But sometimes we even struggle to describe how we feel, particularly when we are unwell. Imagine if, as a child, you only have a limited amount of words and expressions to convey how you feel. In the instance of babies and toddlers, they may not be able to communicate at all. Therefore, if a child tells you they have “a headache in my tummy”, it does not really clarify where the illness may be in the body.

If the child is displaying some of the above signs we need to look for some physical symptoms that indicate illness. These could include:
vomiting
loss of appetite
thick, green discharge from the nose
a rash
itching/scratching
red and irritated eyes, sometimes with a discharge
headaches
pale faeces
dark urine
hot/feverish
clammy

If a child presents with any of these physical symptoms you need to find out firstly if the child has an elevated temperature (fever). Taking a child’s temperature is always a good first step in determining if a child is ill. However it is only one step. The definition of a fever is an oral (mouth) temperature greater than 37.5oC or an axillary (armpit) temperature greater than 37.5oC. Remember to wash your hands before and after taking the reading and comfort the child during the process as you do not want to become sick as well!

Over 10% of young children between the ages of 2 and 5 years can experience a febrile convulsion when their body temperature rises rapidly. Their little bodies cannot handle the sudden change in body temperature and their brain reacts causing a child to convulse. 

It is important to bring that high temperature down by various methods:
give the child a drink
ensure that they are in a cool area with ventilation
sponge them down with a cool cloth or give a tepid (lukewarm) bath
ensure they do not have any tight or constricting clothing

Continue to check your child’s temperature every half hour to see if any of the above methods are working in reducing the temperature. 

If in doubt always contact your doctor- it is better to be safe than sorry!

If you feel you’d like to know more, the Kath Dickson Institute runs regular First Aid courses that are ideal for parents. The next one-day workshop in Toowoomba is on Saturday 17 June 2017. Other workshops may be available in your area subject to demand. Find out more by calling 07 4633 8400.