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Physical and mental health for young children
Physical and mental health for young children

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2.2 Microsystem: factors within the child

There are factors that happen before conception and during pregnancy that can affect a child’s health. Such factors can include the lifestyle choices of the parents, whether they smoke, drink alcohol or take drugs, and the quality of their diet. Ante-natal care for pregnant mothers helps to keep mother and baby as healthy as possible.

Some health conditions are passed on genetically from parents. Each cell of the human body contains the genes that a child inherits from their parents which is a powerful influence on their health. The genetic material that a baby receives from their biological parents can predispose them to inherit a condition that effects their health in a range of different ways. Common inherited health conditions include sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis or Down Syndrome. Chronic health conditions such as asthma and eczema are likely to affect children if other members of the family have these conditions.

Babies or children may develop a disability because of genetic inheritance, their experience before or during birth, or as a result of an infection or injury. For some children, the effects or disability can be so extensive that they have complex medical needs. Having complex needs or a disability can be a factor that predisposes children to poor health, such as being vulnerable to infections.

A child’s age has a profound impact on the state of their health. Babies and children under the age of two are especially vulnerable to the causes of poor or less than optimal health. This is partly because of their immature immune systems which can make them susceptible to infection.

Language and stage of development can affect a child’s health.

Children may not have had such an experience of being unwell or feeling unhealthy. Therefore, they may not have the language to describe how they feel. This is especially the case for babies, their spoken language is limited, although they can communicate that they feel unwell through crying or changes in their behaviour.

Even when children have language, how they describe signs and symptoms can be different to adults. For instance, a child may say that they have ‘tummy aches’ and when asked where it hurts, they may point to their head!

A child who has additional needs caused by disability or complex medical needs, may have limited language. They may also have limited physical mobility. However, in a similar way to babies, they will be able to communicate how they feel to adults.