Common playground bugs
Health and safety

Common playground bugs

As unfortunate as it is and as much as we wish we could prevent it, all children get sick. It is an unavoidable fact of life. Even if you take every precaution, from feeding your children a healthy diet, to giving them probiotics and multivitamins, they will at some point pick some form of infection.

And where are the most common culprits? The playground. The crèche. The classroom. These places are hot spots for the spread of infections. It is coming into contact with other children that carry infections and diseases that is the most common way of your child catching an illness.

Here are some of the most common playground bugs that your child is likely to pick up and how to treat them:

Common Cold

Causes and Symptoms

There are over 200 viruses that can cause a common cold. People sneezing or coughing and droplets being airborne can spread these. It can also be spread through indirect contact such as someone touching a door handle that had been sneezed on by someone with a cold and then touching their face.

Symptoms include nasal stuffiness, runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, and a cough.


Cold symptoms will ease within a week without the need for treatment. However, discomfort can be alleviated through lots of rest and fluids, as well as over-the-counter medicines such as children’s paracetamol. See your GP if your child has a very high fever and swollen glands, as these symptoms could be a sign of tonsillitis and they may need to be prescribed antiobiotics.

Tummy bugs

Causes and Symptoms

The majority of tummy bugs are caused by viruses that can easily be passed on through hand-to-hand contact. Gastroenteritis is an infection of the stomach and bowel. It can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. It can also be caused by food poisoning.

The most common cause of gastroenteritis in children is rotavirus. This is a virus that is spread by infected children who do not wash their hands properly after going to the toilet.

This is extremely common in young children and the first infection is generally the most severe as after it children begin to build up immunity to the virus.

Symptoms usually begin with a rapid onset of diarrhoea and vomiting.


Tummy bugs are highly contagious so it’s important to keep your child at home for 48 hours until their symptoms have settled. The most important thing is rest and lots of fluids.

It is vital to make sure that your child does not become dehydrated, so it’s important to give lots of fluids. If your child shows symptoms of dehydration, contact your GP.

Common playground bugs

Hand, foot and mouth disease

Causes and Symptoms

Not to be confused with foot and mouth disease, hand, foot and mouth disease is a mild illness that is common in children under 10 years of age. It is very contagious, but most adults are immune to the viruses that cause it. If a child catches it, it is unlikely they will catch it again in the same outbreak.

Symptoms include a non-itchy rash on the palms of hands and soles of feet. There can also be ulcers in the mouth. Children who catch it may feel generally unwell.


Medical treatment is not necessary in most cases of hand, foot and mouth disease. The body’s immune system clears the virus and the rash and ulcer symptoms generally go away in seven to 10 days.

Head lice

Causes and Symptoms

Head lice are tiny insects that are spread from hair through head-to-head contact. While anyone with hair can catch head lice, they are most common in children as they are more likely to have head-to-head contact during school or playtime. Head lice are most common in children between four to 11 years.

The most common symptom of head lice is an itchy scalp but not in all cases. Surprisingly, the itching is not caused by the head lice biting the scalp but by an allergy to the lice. If a child is not allergic to the lice, they will not feel itchy.

Another symptom of head lice is a rash on the back of the neck that is caused by a reaction to louse droppings.


Head lice can be persistent and can prove to be difficult to remove. This is because of their high re-infestation rate and because lice are developing a resistance to some insecticides that are used in treatments.

There are two main methods to removing head lice and their eggs:

1. Wet combing

The wet-combing method involves combing the hair from root to tip with a special fine-toothed comb. Complete thoroughness is required to ensure proper removal of the head lice. Wash the hair with shampoo and then apply a large amount of conditioner to the hair. Brush with a regular comb to remove knots from the hair and then use the louse detection comb to thoroughly comb through the hair. Then rinse out the conditioner and repeat the combing procedure. This process needs to be repeated on day five, nine and 13 in order to remove all young lice as they hatch and before they have time to breed again.

2. Medicated treatment

The alternative method to wet combing is using a medicated lotion or spray; however, no medicated treatment is 100% effective. Medicated treatments should only be used if a living head louse is found. As each treatment differs, it is important to follow the instructions of the treatment you have purchased. Generally the advice with these treatments is to treat once and then again in seven days. After the treatment you should use the special comb to remove any dead lice and eggs.

Three to five days after the initial treatment, check for baby lice that would have hatched from eggs since the treatment. Do this again at 10 to 12 days. If the treatment does not work and there are still lice infecting your child’s hair, get advice from your pharmacist, GP or school nurse.

Common playground bugs

“Childhood bugs are part of the deal at schools and crèches…I have my little girl on a multivitamin..its not going to always prevent her picking up infections or sicknesses, but it can build up her immunity. Plenty of berry fruits which have antioxidants.”

  • Caroline McGuire

“My advice is to not get too hung up on being super hygienic. We can’t keep our children in a bubble for their whole lives. Exposing them to all that is out there strengthens their immune systems. A good pro biotic and a healthy diet is an effective way to keep their bodies and immune systems healthy without having to supplement.”

  • Nichola Curran

More like this:

How to boost immunity
Decoding coughs
Tackling tonsillitis



Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.