We chat to CBeebie’s Dr Ranj (who, by the way, really is a doctor) about his popular children’s TV show and top tips for keeping your little ones healthy this winter…
Q: Most parents (and their children) will know you as Dr Ranj from the CBeebies programme Get Well Soon. How did that come about?
I’m actually a paediatric doctor in real life and I got involved in TV about six years ago giving medical advice as a ‘couch doctor’. I became the children’s health expert on ITV’s This Morning, which led to presenting opportunities. In that time, using my experiences of treating children, I came up with the concept for Get Well Soon and pitched it to CBeebies.
Q: Why do you think a programme about health is important for children?
I think positive health-related messages for kids and their parents are really important. Get Well Soon is about educating children and the show explores and explains how a range of common childhood illnesses, injuries and general ailments can affect the body in a fun way.
Teaching healthy behaviours to children – and helping them understand why they are important – can make a positive difference to how they are as adults. I would encourage parents to help develop their kids understanding of health from an early age, such as trying colouring-in books about the body, or reading about healthy eating.
Q: Coughs and colds are really common at this time of year. What are your top tips for preventing and treating them?
Keeping yours and your children's immune systems in good working order - and improving their chances of fighting off infections - really comes down to good habits. My top ten tips are:
- Eat a range of fruit and vegetables to give a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
- There is some research suggesting that supplementing your intake of vitamin C and zinc may help ward off viruses. This could be done naturally by eating broccoli, meat, shellfish and cereals for instance, or by taking supplements.
- A lack of good quality sleep can affect the immune system and may make us more susceptible to catching a cold, flu or other winter viruses.
- Physical activity is important in maintaining a healthy body and immune system. So, even when it’s cold, wrap up warm and get outdoors!
- If your child is unwell though, it’s best to stay indoors, rest and limit their contact with other people. Children are great little vehicles for spreading viruses so only go to your GP or hospital if it’s really necessary.
- Most winter illnesses are caused by viruses, so antibiotics don’t help. Instead, drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated. If you have a temperature or aches and pains take paracetamol or ibuprofen. Check the dosages for children as this can vary depending on their age.
- Children aged between two and four are eligible for the free nasal spray vaccine, and anyone else in a high risk group, such as pregnant women, are offered the injection.
- Always try to cough and sneeze into tissues or elbows rather than hands.
- Wash your hands and your children’s with soap and water to prevent germs spreading.
- Active and passive smoking can increase the chances of picking up infections, particularly respiratory illnesses. Stopping smoking not only helps the smoker but those around them too, including children.
Q: A common dilemma for parents who work is what to do if their child isn’t feeling well but they’re not sure whether to send them to nursery or school. What’s your advice?
In this situation, there are three questions that parents should ask themselves:
- Is my child unable to go out and play or do their usual activities?
- Do they have something infectious or contagious?
- Do they need treatment or monitoring that their school/childcare can’t provide?
If the answer is yes, then they probably shouldn’t go to school or nursery. If you’re unsure, then talking to a healthcare professional may help.
Q: Finally, something that many parents worry about is what to do if their child has a fever. What would you recommend?
First of all, don’t panic. Fever is our bodies' natural way of responding to something foreign - in most cases it’s an infection.
Secondly, remember that a fever isn’t harmful. Parents can worry that a temperature is going to cause damage but, in reality, temperatures up to 40°C degrees will just make a child feel uncomfortable. It's only when the temperature is much higher that it may be harmful but this is extremely rare.
Thirdly, know how to accurately measure and interpret your child’s temperature. This means using a reliable thermometer that you can have confidence in.
If your child has a fever with worrying symptoms then you should talk to a healthcare professional; particularly, if they have signs of a serious illness, such as a rash, breathing difficulties, signs of dehydration, or fits. However, even in the absence of any other signs, if your child is under three months and has a temperature over 38°C, or they are three to six months with a temperature above 39°C, you should talk to someone.
Also, you don’t actually have to treat a fever; it’s more important to treat the underlying cause if appropriate. Most fevers are caused by viral infections and antibiotics don’t work - the body will get rid of these naturally. You should treat a temperature if it’s high and making your child distressed or uncomfortable. Kids will feel groggy when their temperature goes up and often perk up when it comes down.
Most importantly, in the case of any illness, mums and dads should use their parental instinct and learn to trust their own judgment. If you think there’s something really wrong or your child isn’t getting better, contact NHS 111 or your GP.
You can follow Dr Ranj on twitter
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
We have lots of useful information about the health of your child here.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.