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

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11 Physical and mental health

Physical health conditions can cause significant pain and discomfort to children. Managing the conditions can require a lot of planning ahead, for example ensuring that medication and suitable food are both available. Therefore, it is not surprising that for a child the presence of a chronic condition, or conditions, can be a source of great anxiety for them. To illustrate this point, read the case study about Mason.

Case study: Mason, aged 6

Mason is 6, and has had eczema since he was a baby. Large areas of his skin are covered in red and angry looking blisters. When the blisters burst, they dry out and his skin becomes incredibly itchy meaning he often scratches himself until his skin bleeds. His skin is very sensitive, and there are numerous everyday substances that can ‘trigger’ or provoke a reaction. Common triggers are soap, washing powder and pollen. Some foods, such as oranges or tomatoes, trigger a skin response when they come into contact with his skin.

Mason’s mum works hard to try and keep his eczema under control. Every night she bathes him and applies cream, prescribed by the family doctor. She also applies wet wraps to help sooth his skin. Despite all the efforts to make Mason comfortable, he often wakes up in the night and starts to scratch himself, and he can’t get back to sleep.

An image of a child’s hands with red marks
Figure 9 Eczema can be a cause of physical and mental health difficulties for children

At school, Mason is having a miserable time. He often feels exhausted because of his interrupted sleep, and this is making him feel grumpy. Some of the children he has been friends with since nursery are beginning to make comments about his skin, and are calling him names. Additionally, he found out that he hadn’t been invited to a party. Even small everyday things are affecting his skin – the soap and paper towels at school trigger his eczema, and he has stopped washing his hands after he goes to the toilet.

Mason is finding that many of the activities that he used to love are becoming difficult. For example, playing football is affecting his skin because his sore hands are becoming worse when he picks the ball up after it has been on the grass.

Mason’s situation illustrates how having a physical condition such as eczema, a condition that affects the skin, therefore visible to everyone, is having a profound impact on him physically as well as mentally. It illustrates the important role that adults have in supporting children with a physical condition such as eczema. Such support includes ensuring that Mason has access to handwashing equipment that doesn’t provoke his eczema. By doing so he is likely to wash his hands and thus reduce the possibility of spreading infection.

Activity 5 Reflection

Timing: 15 minutes
  • What aspects of this session’s learning did you find most and least helpful? Why?
  • What do you consider to be your three main learning points from the session?
  • What further reading or research might you like to do before the next session?
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