When preschools were first proposed, physicians were horrified at the idea of so many young children in close contact with one another. Spread of infectious diseases, they believed, would be rampant, and many young children would be exposed to serious and sometimes fatal illnesses. Today, that fear has lessened. When caregivers follow healthy measures and provide a basic program in health education, there is evidence that children can and do remain healthy in group settings.
As you are learning about being a professional caregiver for young children, you must be able to protect and promote the health and well-being of the children, yourself, and the families you will be working with. You can achieve major health gains by taking simple steps. For example, washing hands is the single best defense against the spread of infectious disease. And, tooth brushing, in the daily routine, teaches children a good habit for life.
At the same time, I urge you to assess your own health behaviors. When you are in a hurry or distracted, do you sometimes take risks you otherwise wouldn’t? To provide the best care to your children, your own daily health program must become a model for what you are teaching.
I’ll never forget a moment many, many years ago when I was a new director of an early childhood center. Dawn Marie was dropped off at the center early one morning by her rushed and frazzled mother. After the mother left, I noticed red marks all over Dawn’s arm and legs. Chicken pox! I immediately contacted the mother at work, where she was in the midst of an important meeting, and informed her that she had to come back to pick up her child as soon as possible. The mother dropped everything she was doing at work and flew into the center to whisk her child to the doctor’s office. How embarrassed was I when the parent returned the child to the center and informed me that Dawn Marie did not have chicken pox, but rather a rash on her arms and legs due to sleeping with an “itchy” blanket!
The parent lost a day of work. She also took her child out of my program, because she concluded that I didn’t know what I was talking about. The point of this story is to remind us all that we are not doctors or health care professionals. We are caregivers. We cannot and should not offer diagnoses or treatment plans. Instead, caregivers should observe children, record relevant data, and report anything unusual to the parents. Needless to say, I learned my lesson!