Deeper Look: Common Preschool and Kindergarten Health Concerns
October 8, 2017
For parents, the first day of school will often lead to one of two reactions: a sigh of relief, or a full-blown panic attack.
There are a lot of nice things about it, of course. A child is a lot of work. Their high energy level can be difficult—and sometimes borderline impossible—to keep up with all day long. Having a break from that is nice… for a little while.
But, when you break that habit of spending the entire day with them, it doesn’t take long for anxiety to set in. Some people won’t even wait for that period of time, instead staying up late into the night imagining all of the worst-case scenarios. What if the teacher is mean to them? What if they have trouble making friends? What if they start throwing up the second I leave? Memories of your fitful first days of school come flooding back, and are quickly imprinted onto them. These memories feel worse than they ever have before. Surely, your child will be traumatized.
This anxiety isn’t entirely unfounded, but it is certainly played up. These things will pass, and every parent knows it deep down. The changes coming along are frightening now, but they are simply a new routine to get in.
Unfortunately, as these fears pass, new ones rise up. These are more practical fears. These fears are realistic. Preschool and kindergarten provide a host of new challenges, illnesses, and issues that can come up. Often, they won’t, but it’s always good to be prepared.
In this article, we’re going to take a deeper look into the issues that preschool and kindergarten can bring. We will discuss the root of the problems, possible solutions, and warning signs for bigger problems. First, we’re going to talk about what causes many parents, presumably like you, to lose some sleep after sending their child off to school.
Separation anxiety, like OCD, is odd to discuss because of how ambiguously the term is thrown around. Separation anxiety, the colloquial term, and separation anxiety disorder are different in some ways, but similar in others. A major similarity is that both can develop early into a child’s school career, and they can develop in both the child and the parent.
The biggest difference between “separation anxiety” and separation anxiety disorder is how long they can last and how difficult the symptoms are to deal with. “Separation anxiety” will often last only for the first day, week, or month of the school year. Should it persist beyond that, then it is possible that your child has separation anxiety disorder.
Of course, separation anxiety disorder exists beyond the child. If you find yourself stressing the night before dropping them off, then it’s possible that you are developing some semblance of separation. As a matter of fact, children often develop separation anxiety disorder because of anxiety from the parent. WebMD says this about separation anxiety disorder:
“It may not necessarily be a disease of the child but a manifestation of parental separation anxiety as well — parent and child can feed the other’s anxiety. In addition, the fact that children with separation anxiety often have family members with anxiety or other mental disorders suggests that a vulnerability to the disorder may be inherited.”
Because of this, it is important that you learn to mitigate both your anxiety and your child’s anxiety. Many people, even those who haven’t dealt with anxiety disorders before, have coping mechanisms already developed. Whether it’s meditation or an aimless drive, you know how to deal with your nerves. Often, the best thing you can do to help alleviate separation anxiety for yourself is to find a friend or relative who’s been through it before. Your mom shipped you off to school once, and she had to learn how to deal with this. Another tip found in every parenting book is to make plans for right after you drop your son or daughter off. Even a coffee date can keep your mind off of things.
When trying to help your child’s anxiety, the best thing you can do is develop routine and familiarity. Separation anxiety is born from overwhelming change. You can chip away at this by taking them to visit the school or their teacher, and getting their sleeping schedule ready.
Issues That Begin to Show in School
Much like separation anxiety, school can also reveal issues in children that hadn’t shown themselves, or existed before. These are usually social, emotional, and mental issues, though they can sometimes be physical.
Preschool and kindergarten is often the first time we begin to see issues like social anxiety, anger management, and bullying. These issues can seem trivial to you, but be mindful of your child’s perspective. Sometimes things that seem small to you mean everything to them. Preschool and kindergarten are often the first time that disorders like autism have an impact on your child’s life, and will begin to contextualize them. As these are their formative years, it is important to foster good emotional and social habits in your child as you help to guide them through school.
Preschool and kindergarten are also when you will begin to see mental issues and learning disabilities show themselves. Most notably are ADHD and ADD, which affect an enormous number of children today. Children going through their first few weeks or days of school are also prone to sleeping issues. The aforementioned anxiety about school can often manifest in the form of night terrors, which can lead to frightful nights for parents, as well. It is important to familiarize yourself with these issues because they tread the line between disorder and lack of discipline. If you are unfamiliar with the possibilities for mental disorders, especially those that affect attention, it may put limitations and unnecessary stress on you and your child.
Finally, physical ailments that we haven’t noticed may begin to show themselves early into school. Perhaps related to anxiety based sleep problems, bladder control problems can begin to show around this time period. Unfortunately, wetting the bed is not the worst thing facing your child. The University of Michigan’s Michigan Medicine published a very in-depth study on chronic conditions that begin to show themselves or significantly worsen as a toddler gets older. Ranging from asthma to AIDS, the list is long and incredibly grim. Routine checkups are now more important than ever.
Remaining in touch with your child’s emotions and goings on, and keeping on top of their health, is of dire importance. You’ve gotten them out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Illness, Injury, and Handling Emergencies
On a brighter, but still unfortunate note, illness is in the air at schools. Small children, no matter how well they wash, collect germs at an alarming rate. Dirty knees and runny noses fill the halls of preschools and kindergartens everywhere, with children sneezing into the air and sharing water bottles. Illnesses aren’t an “if” anymore, they’re an inevitability. An article published by CNN in 2016 spoke on this topic from the perspective of a first-grade teacher who ran down some ways to keep your child healthy. This is nearly impossible though, as they will be exposed to germs that they haven’t been at home, and it will be hard for their body to handle. These illnesses will happen, but they will also fade. The Blade even believes that these illnesses are a good thing, as they help your child to develop resistances to similar illnesses in the future. Consider chickenpox—once you get it, you’ll never deal with it again.
Unfortunately, sickness isn’t quite as bad as injury at kindergartens and preschools. I hate to bring these statistics up, but it’s important to note that most fatalities for kindergarten-aged children occur through injury. 61% of all playground related injuries that affected preschool and elementary-aged children occurred at public playgrounds.
Of course, it is frightening to think of these injuries occurring when we aren’t around, but they are somewhat par for the course. Kids will be kids, as they say, and (as we learned above) being overprotective of them can lead to separation anxiety which will often be worse than a bone fracture. It can lead to anxiety in you, but it will be okay.
The best thing we can do to mitigate illness is to have a pediatrician, of course. Having a doctor to turn to when Kleenex and Claritin aren’t getting the job done will save you a lot of time, worrying, and ineffective Googling.
When it comes to injury, we’d prefer to prevent it where possible, but that can’t always be done. One of the most important things that your child will be learning at school is how to handle emergencies, and you can get that learning started early. Helping your child to recognize emergency situations and call for help is important. Explain what can cause injury and how to avoid it. Then, make sure your child knows the number for local police and your phone number. If they have the ability to contact you or another helpful adult, they should never run into an issue.
Similarly, you should be in touch with the school to learn their emergency procedures. Be ready for the call, should it ever come, and have a plan in place. You can save a lot of time, pain, and heartache simply by knowing where you need to bring your child in an emergency, and how much help the school can be in the situation. Of course, you should be in touch with your child’s school nurse in the first place to ensure that they are aware of any of your child’s unique health concerns.
Why Immunizations and Vaccinations Are Important
As vaccinations have seen some controversy recently, we should discuss what makes them important and worth any potential risk.
Think back to any major disease—the bubonic plague, the Spanish flu, polio, smallpox, H1N1—and you’ll notice they aren’t so deadly anymore. This is largely because of immunizations and vaccinations.
These diseases were all born of the same event: a germ met with a population that had never run into any of its predecessors. One of the factors in making H1N1 an issue was its root in the flu, which is one of the fastest evolving viruses ever. When H1N1 swept the nation, flu shots were behind, allowing the disease to spread rapidly.
At schools, children will be exposed to germs they could never be exposed to at home. If they are not properly vaccinated, this can put them at an increased risk for severe diseases. This risk is often needless, as modern medicine is equipped to prevent many illnesses that would otherwise be fatal. Compounding the issue, an unvaccinated child can become a host for viruses, allowing them to evolve beyond what the vaccination can prevent, such as with H1N1.
In conclusion, we see that kindergarten health is a war of attrition. First, we build our defenses. We do this by preparing the child’s routine, familiarizing them with their school, and getting them vaccinated to prevent any other disease. Once we have done this, we play a sort of waiting game, hoping that they never suffer any serious injury. Should this happen, we are equipped with knowledge of local urgent care centers, and their location.
The best thing we can do for our preschooler or kindergartener is simply be mindful of the issues they are facing. This is a time of physical, mental, and emotional turmoil that often goes unchecked. We must remember that children are people too, but on a sort of different scale. While a runny nose may seem like nothing to our pent-up sleep deprivation, it might as well be the end of the world to them. A mindset that fails to respect and be aware of the issues a child is facing can create life-long problems. With some alarming statistics on the efficiency of kindergarten health assessments, doctors and parents are a child’s best resources. You can be both, but just being the best of either will go long a way.