Qualification: NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma for the Early Years Educator
Unit: Unit 1.5: Understand how to support children who are unwell
Learning outcome: Understand care routines when a child is ill
Assessment criteria: Describe the needs of a child who is ill in relation to: food and drink, personal care, rest and sleep, emotional well-being, dignity and respect, observation and monitoring
Sometimes, an Early Years practitioner will be required to care for an ill child. This will be different to caring for healthy children, and the practitioner should ensure that they are sensitive to changing needs of the child.
Food and drink
When we explored the signs and symptoms of common illnesses, we saw that a loss of appetite is common for many diseases. It is important for children to maintain their strength by eating; however, practitioners should not force children to eat if they have no appetite.
If a child is struggling to eat, smaller and more frequent meals may be offered instead of large meals.
Soft or liquidised foods, such as yoghurt and soup, are often easier for ill children to consume than solids. This is particularly true if a child has an illness that results in a swelling of the glands in their neck, such as mumps.
Practitioners should also ensure that the ill child has easy access to fluids, such as milk and water because dehydration can worsen their condition. Children should be encouraged to drink regularly.
Even if a child is nauseous or has vomiting or diarrhoea, eating and drinking should still be encouraged.
Personal care routines should continue when the child is ill and may be required more frequently. This promotes good hygiene, reduces the likelihood of the infection spreading, and helps children feel cleaner and more comfortable. It can also reduce the likelihood of rashes and further infections.
As always, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be worn during activities such as cleaning up vomit or changing nappies to reduce the spread of infection.
Regular nappy changing also helps practitioners to identify any other issues, such as nappy rash or dry nappies (which could indicate dehydration).
Children that are ill may regress to a previous age or stage of development. For example, a child that regularly uses the toilet independently may begin to wet themselves. Practitioners should be sensitive if this happens (see ‘Dignity & Respect below).
Rest and sleep
Children usually need more sleep when they are ill. This is because the immune system needs time and rest to heal the body.
Practitioners should support ill children to take the lead in their sleep and rest patterns, even if they fall outside their usual routine.
To support an ill child’s emotional wellbeing, practitioners should make time to talk to the child about how they are feeling, both physically and emotionally and listen to any worries or concerns the child may have.
It is also useful to help the child understand their illness and what is happening in their body.
Poorly children will need a lot of reassurance and may require more time to be spent with them and lots of cuddles. This can result in clinginess, however, the practitioner should support the child in a sensitive and empathetic way.
Dignity and respect
We have learned in previous units that it is essential for Early Years practitioners to promote and support a child’s dignity and show them respect at all times.
When a child is ill, there may be situations where children require additional support to maintain their dignity. For example, if an older child wets themselves, it can be a cause of embarrassment for them and practitioners should be sensitive to this, ensure that the child has sufficient privacy and that they are in control of the level of support or independence that they have.
Observation & monitoring
We spoke above about dry nappies being a potential sign of dehydration. This is an example of one of many observations practitioners will make as they monitor a child that is ill. Other observations might include:
- Fluid intake
- Food intake
- Frequency of toileting
- Frequency and length of sleep
- Changes to the skin (e.g. paleness or rashes)
- New symptoms
You will be required to keep records of changes to a child that is ill. Your employer’s policies and procedures will provide information about the kind of observations that should be recorded. This information will be essential during the handover with parents/carers.