How To Survive Cold, Flu Season with Under 5s

Despite the weather outside being balmy, the cold and flu season is well and truly upon us, with many nurseries reporting that the current season has been a particularly challenging one for little people.
How To Survive Cold, Flu Season with Under 5s
By Jenny Mollon
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The roll call of illnesses acquired during the nursery years can be depressing (and especially challenging for working parents, who have our sympathy in dealing with both irate children and irate employers!). Think coughs, colds, conjunctivitis (pink eye), chest infections, more coughs, more colds, scarlet fever, chicken pox and the dreaded stomach bugs – it’s a wonder sometimes that children complete a full week in class.

Many parents will be tempted to ask themselves – it nursery worth it?  Will they simply keep on picking up viruses? Should I withdraw my child from nursery if they are sick all the time?  And…WILL IT EVER END?!!

So what are nurseries doing to prevent infection and protect your child?  Are some nurseries better at this than others?  How does one tell?  We spoke to three nurseries in Dubai to see how they work with parents to make it through the cold and flu season.

Laura Barton of Paddington Nursery in Jumeirah Lake Towers told us:

This is a hot topic at the moment.  Some children have had a more challenging time than others.  My paediatrician had said there is a lot going around this year. One thing we do advise though is that if your child is unwell please keep them at home.  This is always our primary advice.

We appreciate that this is difficult for some working parents but it is vital to prevent the spread of infection.  They will recover faster and then be able to return to nursery”.

British Orchard Nursery in Mankhool has a strict sickness policy and require children to rest at home and recuperate until they are completely well.  Children are asked to remain at home with any of the following conditions:

  • Fever greater than 37.5C
  • Rash (with or without fever)
  • Diarrhoea/vomiting
  • Breathing difficulties or persistent cough
  • Conjunctivitus or eye infection

Principal Rebecca Barker told us that this exclusion combined with regular hand-washing were the most important factors in preventing the spread of disease. 

“We do everything we can do to support working parents”, she said, “we are really flexible about timings and holidays, but when it comes to illness, the children are always our number 1 priority. 

We aim to spot early signs of sickness and contact families to give advice and support through our Nurse.  By doing this children recover and return to class much quicker. We don’t want to send them home but we want to keep our school environment safe, clean and germ free as much as we can so the children’s social interaction is not spoiled.”

So if your child is picking up illnesses at nursery – what steps should the nursery be taking to prevent the spread of infection? 

On a recent visit to Mindchamps Nursery in Dubai, we were impressed by the use of new technology to improve hygiene.  Upon entering the building, everyone, staff, parents, children and visitors have their temperature taken.  For visitors and infants this is done using a no-touch forehead thermometer.  Older children stand next to a temperature scanner on the wall so as to make the process as quick as possible.  If the child does have temperature, the system will automatically alert the on-site nurse and the parents will be informed, either in person or via the Mindchamps app.  

Anyone with a fever is not allowed further than reception. 

Susan Foot, Principal, feels this is really helpful for many reasons.  “Not only does it ensure that sick children do not come into contact with their classmates, it helps us to prevent adults from passing infection to children and vice versa. 

Our staff are very committed and want to come to work if they possibly can, but this simple step is another way in which we can prevent cross infection.  We also encourage a healthy diet, hand washing and simple measures such as teaching children to cover their mouths when they cough.  A basic but important factor”.

Many nurseries won’t yet have this technology, but parents who are concerned about hygiene can question cleaning and sanitation methods – both of which should form part of a documented cleaning or hygiene policy.  Nurseries should have cleaning checklists in all classroom areas – are these signed and updated regularly, by whom and who checks this?  Whilst the classroom might be clean, how often are toys and communal play equipment sanitised? If your child sleeps at nursery – do they have the own individual bed and bedding?  How often are these items washed?

Some nurseries may recommend that children take the ‘flu vaccine.  This should not be a mandatory requirement – it is a personal decision to be taken in partnership with your child’s doctor.  Do inform the nursery if you child has had recent vaccinations, however, as they can cause a fever unrelated to a ‘real’ illness.

However spotless and hygienic the nursery, there will be times where exhausted parents question – are the colds and bugs really worth it?  Wouldn’t my child be better off at home with me or a nanny? 

As with many parenting questions, we believe it all comes down to balance – everything is a trade off when you have kids! At we are firm advocates of the benefits of a really high quality Early Years education and if that can be delivered at home, then - great!  That said, most parents and nannies have neither the resources nor the training and experience to offer the kind of learning and social opportunities that a good nursery can. 

Forming friendships and positive relationships with new adults is a vital element of a child’s personal, social and emotional growth, and nurseries can be a great place in which to do this.  Perhaps the all too frequent visits to the doctor are a trade-off for these priceless experiences? 

Lastly, there will eventually come a time where all children enter the school system.  Those who have had their immune system fortified by time spent at nursery should, (at least in theory!), have far fewer sick days in those all-important first few months at ‘big’ school.  Payback - finally!

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