‘Lawnmower’ parents urged to let their children make mistakes and messes

It is a reflex that parents should fight, and instead allow their young children more autonomy and opportunity to attempt things themselves and avoid becoming ‘lawnmower’ parents according to education specialists and child psychologists.

There is some sympathy for well-meaning parents though.

“Poor parents are constantly called names like helicopter parents, lawnmower parents, bulldozer parents, snow-plough parents,” Rosine McAlpine, creator of the Win Win Parenting Program, told ABC Radio Brisbane.

“What these terms are all referring to is the way in which they parent. 

“You know when the lawn’s tall and it’s hard to walk through? As soon as you mow the lawn, it’s much easier to pass through.

Sunshine Coast prep teacher Jennifer* said she was seeing the well-intentioned parental trait cement itself well after the first few weeks of school. 

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Grieving parents honour drowned toddler Hunter Boyle by funding children’s swimming lessons

Eight months ago, Ashlie Napolitano lived through a parent’s worst nightmare when her two-year-old son Hunter drowned in a dam on his grandfather’s farm.

“He was feeding the horses with his grandpa when he disappeared for a second and he fell into a dam,” she says.

“It was the middle of winter so the dam was absolutely freezing.

“The medical team were amazing. They worked on him for six-and-a-half hours.

Hunter is one of 13 children who have drowned in Victoria since July last year.

Now Ms Napolitano and fiance Matt Boyle are honouring their toddler’s memory by raising money to cover the costs of children’s swimming lessons for struggling families. They have started an organisation called the Hunter Boyle Children’s Swim Program.

“People will try to tell you time heals, but it doesn’t,” Ms Napolitano said.

“That’s not the normal course of life and no parent should ever have to do that.

“We don’t want another parent to have to go through what we’ve gone through.”

The Shepparton couple wants the funds to go to families in country areas.

“We’ve got friends on farms who are struggling financially and, unfortunately, swimming lessons sometimes have to take a back seat to keep a roof over their head, buy groceries and keep the power on,” Ms Napolitano said.

“We want to take that burden away and when you’re living on a farm, there’s always going to be a dam or a channel or some sort of open body of water.”

They are working with child accident prevention organisation Kidsafe, which is referring families in need from Shepparton-based Bridge Street Youth Services.

So far, they have raised almost $40,000 for swimming lessons and equipment and money has gone to the first families in the past week.

“I still remember the day that Ash contacted us. It was the day after Hunter’s funeral in August last year,” said Kidsafe CEO Melanie Courtney.

“They were just so desperate to do something and make a difference.

“It’s incredibly selfless in the most challenging and heartbreaking time of their lives.”

Ms Courtney said the program was vital in light of Victoria’s drowning rate and disruptions to swimming lessons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Children are drowning in every single body of water imaginable in Victoria since July last year, things like backyard pools, dams, rivers, fish ponds and even pet bowls, it just takes a few centimetres of water and 20 seconds for a child to drown.

“(This program) is about providing access to swimming lessons for kids who wouldn’t otherwise have had that ability to get there.”

“Children are also four times more likely to die from injuries in regional areas than in metropolitan areas. There are so many different hazards like dams, rivers and other farm hazards as well.”

Hunter’s parents are now determined to make sure no family goes without water-safety knowledge, including reinforcing the message to parents not to be complacent around water.

“There are children everywhere, due to a range of reasons, who don’t have the opportunity to attend lessons.

“There are so many ways children can drown in the home. 

“We are never going to know how many lives we’ve saved but we just hope we can make a difference.”

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Intensive Parenting Is Bad for Parents’ Social Lives

The economists Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti explain that the turn to intensive parenting was, in part, a reaction to rising economic inequality. In their book, Love, Money and Parenting, they argue that in countries with high social inequality, such as the U.S. and China, parents are required to do far more to support and prepare their children, because business and government do so little. This reality stands in contrast to low-social-inequality countries that have more family-friendly policies, such as Germany and Sweden. Looked at another way: If I don’t have to worry about paying for good-quality preschool, high school, or college; if I know that my child will be okay even without a college degree, because there are plenty of decent jobs when they leave home; if I know I won’t be bankrupted by my child’s illness—let alone my own—then it’s easier for me to relax and hang out with my friends.

According to one study, the average number of close relationships that adults had with friends, co-workers, and neighbors decreased by a third from 1985 to 2004. Meanwhile, the number of hours they spent with children skyrocketed. From 1965 to 2011, married fathers nearly tripled their time (from 2.6 hours to 7.2 hours a week) with children, while married mothers increased their time by almost a third (from 10.6 hours to 14.3 hours a week) in the same time period, according to a 2013 report by Pew. In that time, single mothers almost doubled the amount of time spent with their children, from 5.8 hours a week in 1985 to 11.3 hours a week in 2011, while single fathers went from less than one hour a week in 1985 to about eight hours a week in 2011.

Spending more time with children has been a trend over the past half century, not just in the U.S. but in other wealthy Western countries. However, many of those societies have social policies that don’t force parents to create this time by giving up their social lives. Instead “many Scandinavian and Western European countries have obtained shorter standard work weeks through legislation or collective bargaining,” according to a 2020 report by the Brookings Institution.

Friendships matter. Although countless studies report their value in maintaining physical and emotional well-being, it seems that when American parents feel crunched, their friendships tend to get sacrificed. In many ways, today’s parents seem to hope their children will provide the meaning and support prior generations of parents received from adult friends, hobbies, and organizational memberships. According to a survey conducted in 2012 by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, nearly three-quarters of parents of school-age children said they hoped to be best friends with their children when they’re grown. This hope is being fulfilled, to some degree. Studies show that parents and their adult children have far more frequent and affectionate contact than they did only four decades before.

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Parents call for nationwide screening for deadly muscle-wasting Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Oakley Gough is not the first baby to miss out on a newborn health test that could have prolonged her life, but her parents hope she will be the last.

Six-month-old Oakley was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) at eight weeks old when she lost the ability to breast or bottle feed and was fitted with a nasogastric tube.

SMA is the childhood version of Motor Neurone Disease and, over time, results in the muscles wasting away.

Babies diagnosed with SMA Type 1 (Oakley’s classification) are given a life expectancy of two years, or less than six months without treatment.

Kate and Grant Gough already had a healthy two-year-old daughter when Oakley was born and had no idea they carried a gene that could result in their second child having SMA.

“We had never heard of SMA, we had no family history, we had no idea what to look for,” Ms Gough said.

Screening for SMA has been trialled as part of the routine newborn heel-prick test for the past two years in New South Wales and the ACT, but not in Queensland where Oakley was born.

The approximate cost of the test is $10.

If detected at the newborn stage, SMA can be treated with medication that slows progression of the disease.

However, once damage occurs it cannot be reversed and babies like Oakley rapidly lose mobility, including the ability to breathe or swallow.

“If Oakley had that test she would still be able to breastfeed, breathe without support, and she’d be meeting all of her milestones,” Ms Gough said.

She said the situation was particularly tough to deal with, as the Goughs were originally from Lismore in northern New South Wales.

“We’re from New South Wales through and through, so it’s devastating to think we could have been just a few hours’ south and things could have been so different,” Ms Gough said.

A Queensland Health spokesperson issued a statement saying:

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath also confirmed a Queensland trial was under “active consideration”.

“I have become aware of that in the past couple of days and I do think it is worth us at least exploring,” she said.

The Goughs are now dedicated to raising awareness of SMA and campaigning for routine newborn screening to be standard practice nation wide.

“A lot of people have been advocating for a lot of years for this to change, so we’re not pretending to be the first people who have done this but we really hope we’re the last,” Ms Gough said.

“It’s not OK that this has continued to happen for so long when the treatment exists.”

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More Victorian parents choosing to homeschool students post COVID-19

While some parents are waving their children back to school with relief, there has been a 20 per cent increase in children being registered to homeschool.

That’s 1,224 more children registered as homeschoolers in 2020 compared with the previous year according to data collected by the Victorian government, which attributes the change to COVID-19.

The government released the data last month, but home learning networks say the trend is continuing into 2021.

Parent Tracey Arnell from Geelong is continuing to educate her child at home.

Ms Arnell’s son Zachery was in year seven during 2020. He has high-functioning autism and Ms Arnell had always worried he struggled at school.

She said lockdown life showed her how hard school was for him.

“We always knew it was stressful but because it was something he knew he had to do he went every day and it was hard but he did it anyway,” Ms Arnell said.

“What we learned during the first lockdown, when we really tried to mimic a normal school day, going from subject to subject every 45 minutes, we could see the anxiety creeping up and growing and we thought, how does he cope in a real classroom?

“Then the second lockdown came and we decided to do it differently. We followed our own program. We noticed a change in personality — we saw our child again. He was relaxed. So we made the decision to continue home learning through our own program.”

The rise of homeschool numbers may not have reached its peak yet. 

Home Education Network (HEN) volunteer Kirsty James said there were still many families asking for information about making the switch to home education.

“At HEN, we are seeing an increase in enquiries,” Ms James said.

Monash University Faculty of Education lecturer Nicholas Gamble was himself homeschooled.

Dr Gamble said people needed to be aware homeschooling was different to the home learning during lockdown with a school’s support.

He said there was a lot to take into account.

“Instead of the school driving the curriculum the parent and students will need to dictate the when, the where, the how. The commitment needs time, effort. 

Dr Gamble was homeschooled until year 11 and 12 and had a positive experience.

“Certainly for me, I enjoyed the freedom and ability to explore the things that interested me in the time frames I really enjoyed,” he said.

A disproportionately large amount of homeschooling families live in regional Victoria. Regional Victoria makes up around 24 per cent of the Victoria population and around 43 per cent of homeschooling families.

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Parents push for rehab facility in Mildura after son’s death

When Geoffrey Clemence took his life in November 2019, his mother Cheryl Clemence felt mostly anger.

She was angry at the contributing influences in Geoffrey’s life, and at a health system in Mildura that she says let her son down.

“I wasn’t shocked. I thought for a long time I had expected it,” she said.

“It was just anger — I just remember anger.” 

Two months earlier, Mrs Clemence found her son after his first suicide attempt.

Geoffrey was struggling with an addiction to alcohol, a habit that worsened after he kicked an addiction to ice years earlier.

Geoffrey’s father, Simon Clemence, a former police inspector and Mayor of the Mildura Rural City Council, said the extent of his son’s addiction was “devastating”.

“He went from being an ice addict to an alcoholic. He was a full-blown alcoholic,” Mr Clemence said.

“He came over to help me with the shed one morning and he’d just be drunk.

“You’d think, ‘Wow, it’s 10 in the morning.’ Something was really wrong.

“It was absolutely devastating. We had so many conversations with him about our concerns. Every other night we’d be talking to him about how devastating it was.”

Mr Clemence said when Geoffrey tried to receive support, he often felt like “just another number” in the mental health system, and that there was no rehabilitation facility to help with his alcohol addiction.

The coroner’s report for Geoffrey Clemence noted that Mildura had the highest rate of suicide of any regional Victorian local government area from 2010 to 2019, with a rate of 35.5 suicides per 100,000 residents.

It added that substance misuse was the most prevalent stressor in the area, a concern compounded by a lack of drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, and by the region’s geographic isolation impeding access to other services.

The closest rehabilitation facility is in Bendigo, a four-and-a-half-hour drive away.

Mr Clemence pushed for years for a drug and alcohol rehab facility in Mildura during his two terms as Mayor of the Mildura Rural City Council.

He said a business case for a facility was developed in 2018, but the project was continually stalled.

“You’d go to meeting after meeting after meeting trying to get data, or an update on data. You’d go to so many meetings but nobody could ever do what they were supposed to do,” he said.

“I would be pulling my hair out, just so frustrated.

“Geoff’s issues were only magnifying my resolve.”

Sunraysia Community Health’s Simone Heald said a number of stakeholders were preparing a business case again in 2020 before it was “pushed to the side” by the pandemic.

They have reconvened and are again working on a business case.

Mildura MP Ali Cupper has campaigned for a 30-bed facility and wants to see a commitment from the state government.

“When you look at facilities, you see a glaring gap in the state’s north west,” Ms Cupper told Parliament in March.

“Our suicide rates are 40 per cent above the state average. Family violence is 155 per cent higher.

“It’s clear that Mildura needs a culturally appropriate, dedicated 30-bed service.”

In a statement, a Victorian Department of Health spokesperson said more mental health services were being brought to Mildura but did not answer questions about the future of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.

“We know we must do more to support Victorians with mental health issues and recognise our vital mental health services are under pressure to meeting increasing demand in regional and metropolitan areas,” the spokesperson said.

Mrs Clemence believed Geoffrey was ready to change if he had access to professional support.

“I think he was sick of it — I found a duffle bag full of empty bottles in his room one day. And he said, ‘I’m so ashamed’. That was really hard to hear,” she said.

“He was ready to do something about it. He did try to get off it. If the opportunities had been there, if the right facilities had been there, he might have been successful.

“But the facilities just aren’t here, and our boy is dead.”

Mrs Clemence also believed that if Geoffrey had lived to hear that his daughter Madison was pregnant things might have been different.

“It was only six months or so later [she became pregnant] — family was everything to him. I really think if he had known, he might still be here today,” she said.

Mr Clemence believed a facility would save lives.

“If we had those services here, and we had been able to get Geoff into some of those services, he could still be here today. But he’s not,” he said.

“Suicide is devastating — the devastation is remarkable. So if you help that one person, then you fix a much bigger problem.

“When you treat one person, you’re really treating a lot of people.”

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Why parents of twins, triplets or multiples should test children for zygosity

In the world of twins, triplets or multiples, it is not uncommon to scroll past online social media posts where other parents have asked, ‘Do my kids look identical?’

This conundrum can be solved by testing for zygosity — how genetically similar, or different, a twin pairs’ DNA is — but experts say many parents are misinformed about whether their twins are identical or not.

When Leila Jane gave birth to her twin boys Jamie and Brent 16 years ago, she was told [by doctors] they could not be identical because they had separate placentas and separate sacs.

Seven years passed and Ms Jane said she was perplexed because Jamie and Brent had the same hair and eye colour, and others were unable to tell them apart.

“Ever since they started school, everyone asked if they were identical or not, I would just say, ‘I don’t know’, so I decided to find out for sure,” she said.

Identical twins occur when one egg is fertilised by one sperm, which splits. If two eggs are released and are fertilised by two separate sperm, fraternal or non-identical twins are formed.

Identical and fraternal twin pairs can be identified by how many eggs they developed from and if they shared a placenta in the womb. But as the science of twinning advances, these methods have been deemed less reliable by experts.

During a twin pregnancy, there may be one or two placentas, amniotic sacs and chorions. If two babies are enclosed within the one placenta, they are thought to be identical, while two babies in two separate placentas are thought to be fraternal.

But according to the Australian Multiple Births Association, all same-sex fraternal twins and about one-third of identical twin pairs have separate placentas, which means the number of placentas in utero is not always an accurate way to determine zygosity.

Multiple births account for 1.5 per cent of all Australian births (or 4,501), and one in every three sets of twins is identical.

Unlike fraternal twins, identical twins share almost exactly the same DNA code with each other because they were formed from one fertilised sperm and egg.

Knowing if twins are identical supports bonding and can bring a sense of certainty around identity.

In sharing most of the same genetic material, there are also medical benefits, including compatibility for organ donation and early intervention for diseases.

Ashlee Tenberge, a twin-mum to identical girls and chairperson of the board of directors at the Australian Multiple Births Association, said their awareness campaign hoped to simplify “the mechanics of twinning”.

“With the predisposition for disease, having one twin or multiple diagnosed with an illness is important to know,” she said.

“For that subgroup of twins to have been incorrectly diagnosed as identical or fraternal, those health risks are prolonged until such time [as they are tested].”

Studies show many people still rely on physical appearances, behaviours and stereotypes to work out what type of twins they have.

“Our girls look very alike’, ‘my twin sister and I do not look exactly the same’ and ‘both boys have autism’,” responses in the report said.

Gold Coast mother of two, Peta Atama, is a member of the Gold Coast Multiple Births Association, which supports more than 700 local parents of multiples.

Ms Atama conceived her 13-month-old identical twin girls Aiyla and Aiesha through sperm donation and in-vitro fertilisation.

She had only one egg transferred, so when the doctor announced there were two heartbeats at her seven-week scan, she knew they were identical.

“I had the one egg. There was only one way it got there, so I knew they had definitely come from the one egg, which had split, and were identical.”

“With the type of twin they were, they’d share that high rate of DNA which is like 99 per cent. That was freaky and made it a more high-risk pregnancy, but I thought, ‘They chose me, so here we go’.”

Ms Atama said the bond her identical twins share is ‘unique’ and ensures they will walk through life with the constant support of each other.

“I hear all these stories about how one has the feelings of the other, which must be amazing, what drives that connection and the invisible thread that holds them together,” she said.

Aiyla and Aiesha are healthy and happy babies but testing for zygosity will help if they ever find themselves in strife.

“If one child has come down with something, they may test the other to see if that gene is there. From that aspect, it’s super important that you can protect your children as much as you can.”

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Richmond West Primary School lockdowns linked to safe injecting room prompts crisis meeting of parents

Concerned parents have held a crisis meeting after a series of troubling incidents at Richmond West Primary School believed to be linked to the nearby safe injecting room.

Some residents in the area have long been opposed to the facility’s proximity to the school, but parents say the situation has gone from bad to worse, with the school being forced to lock down three times in one week.

About 70 people attended a meeting on Wednesday night, which was organised by parents of children at the school.

Richmond residents, parents, State Opposition MP Georgie Crozier, Yarra City councillor Stephen Jolly, and a few people who use heroin are among those who spoke at the meeting.

One of the parents at the meeting was Neil Mallet, the father of two boys aged 10 and 12 who have attended the school since grade prep.

Mr Mallet said a man entered the school grounds with a knife last week, prompting the school to lock its students in their classrooms.

While he believed there were issues with the facility’s location from the start, Mr Mallett said both kids and parents were growing increasingly fearful, with incidents “snowballing out of control”.

“It’s putting lives at risk,” Mr Mallet said.

A man died after a suspected drug overdose in this park in Richmond.(



Mr Mallet also said he saw a woman put a needle in her neck right at the school gate one afternoon, as children were leaving school.

Acting Premier James Merlino said he was open to discussing concerns with parents, but said feedback from the school was that incidents had decreased since the site’s opening.

“The reports back from the school community is that there are less syringes, less drug paraphernalia, there is less anti-social behaviour in and around the school,” Mr Merlino said on Thursday.

‘These events have been traumatising’

Claire, a resident of North Richmond for 20 years, said the school had also gone into lockdown a few days prior when a man “ran around screaming through the school grounds”.

Days later, a man’s body was discovered outside the school, prompting it to advise parents to use a different entrance so children would avoid seeing the body.

Claire said she had called triple-0 the day before after finding a man passed out outside the school.

She said police confirmed it was the same man whose body was found the following day.

“I feel really sad, I don’t know whether to buy flowers,” she said.

“There’s no respect for his last resting place.”

One parent, Katie, said she supported the safe injecting room but said it should be moved away from the school.

“Our children are traumatised,” she told the meeting on Wednesday night.

“I walked past that body the other day and it felt like a failure for everything that we do every day to support it, and it felt like a failure to people [who use the facility], who are there to be supported.”

A man in black unkempt clothing slumped against a brick wall, holding what appears to be a needle near his leg.
Some parents told the meeting their children had witnessed people using drugs near the school.(



Mr Mallet said he had heard parents in tears over what they and their children had seen.

“These events have been traumatising for kids and for parents alike,” he said.

“We don’t have any issue with the service being provided, it just shouldn’t be provided where a five-year-old can watch it or pick up a needle”.

The parent body, Mr Mallet said, was considering legal action.

‘It saves lives and it protects people’

One man at the meeting, who said he regularly used the safe injecting room, said he supported moving it away from the school but stressed it was an important facility.

Another woman at the meeting, who also said she used the safe injecting room, said broader changes were needed to help address drug issues.

“If you want to do something to address the issues around public injecting, we all need to be advocating for a change in drug policy,” she said.

“We need to be advocating for people to have prescription heroin, so people can take that and use that in their homes.”

Several people gather around a man who is lying in a park.
Parents told the meeting their kids were “traumatised” by some of the incidents they had witnessed near the school.(



Mr Merlino conceded there was a high level of drug activity in the area, but said that was why the facility was needed in the first place.

“I know this is challenging, I know it’s confronting, but it has been the reality in North Richmond for decades,” he said.

A two-year trial of the facility ended in July last year, with the state government extending the trial for another three years, while planning for a second trial site in North Melbourne. 

An independent review of the North Richmond facility found it had saved at least 21 lives and safely managed more than 3,200 overdoses.

Mr Merlino the data showed the facility was working.

“It works, it has saved lives and it protects people.”

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said “by putting a drug injecting room next to a primary school, the Labor government is putting these kids through hell”.

“Labor MPs wouldn’t have one next to their homes or their kids’ schools. Why should these families?” he said on Twitter on Thursday night.

“Move the drug room.”

Richmond West Primary School and the Education Department have been contacted for comment.

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Returning to sports and physical activity after COVID-19: What parents need to know

While most children and teens who have COVID-19 recover completely, sometimes the virus can have lasting effects. One of those effects can be damage to the muscle of the heart — and if a damaged heart is stressed by exercise, it can lead to arrhythmias, heart failure, or even sudden death.

This appears to be rare. But given that we are literally learning as we go when it comes to COVID-19, it’s hard for us to know how rare — and just how risky exercise after testing positive for COVID-19 might be. To help doctors, coaches, gym teachers, parents, and caregivers make safe decisions, the American Academy of Pediatrics has published some guidance on returning to sports and physical activity after having COVID-19.

This is “interim guidance” — our current best guess about what to do, based on what we know so far. Unfortunately, there is much we don’t know, and can’t know until we have had more time to study the virus and watch what happens to patients as they recover over weeks, months, and years.

What’s important to know about returning to sports and physical activity?

Teens and young adults who play competitive sports are at highest risk for a heart problem. This is both because younger children appear to be less affected by COVID-19, and because older teens and young adults have harder workouts that are more likely to stress the muscle of the heart. Of course, nobody can say for certain that running around an elementary school playground is completely risk-free for a child who has had COVID-19.

The guidance for returning to physical activity depends on whether the case of COVID-19 was considered mild (including asymptomatic), moderate, or severe.

  • Mild: fewer than four days of fever greater than 100.4, and less than one week of muscle aches, chills, or fatigue (this would include those with asymptomatic cases)
  • Moderate: four or more days of fever greater than 100.4; a week or more of muscle aches, chills, or fatigue; or a hospital stay (not in the ICU) with no evidence of MIS-C. (MIS-C is the multisystem inflammatory syndrome that sometimes occurs with COVID-19.)
  • Severe: any ICU stay and/or intubation, or evidence of MIS-C. During intubation, a tube is placed through the mouth into the airway and connected to a machine to help a child breathe.

What screening might be done after a child recovers from an asymptomatic to mild case of COVID-19?

It’s toughest to offer guidance for youths who have had mild or asymptomatic cases, as we truly have limited data on this group when it comes to the health of their hearts.

For these children, experts recommend that parents check in with the child’s primary care provider. Wait until the child has recovered from their illness (or at least 10 days after a positive test if a child is asymptomatic). They should be screened for any symptoms of heart problems, with the most worrisome being

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath that is more than you’d expect after a bad cold
  • palpitations that they have never had before
  • dizziness or fainting.

A simple phone call to the doctor’s office may be sufficient following very mild or asymptomatic cases in children who aren’t serious athletes.

An in-person examination is a good idea for those whose cases were more borderline, or if there are any concerns at all, or if the child is a serious athlete.

If there are any worries based on the answers to questions or the physical examination, then an EKG and a referral to a cardiologist make sense.

If there aren’t any worries, then children can return to recreational physical activity as they feel able. Returning to competitive sports should be done gradually, watching for symptoms along the way. See the AAP guidance linked above for suggestions on how to do this.

What screening might be done after a child recovers from a moderate or severe case of COVID-19?

Any child who had a moderate illness should see their primary care provider to be screened for symptoms and examined. Schedule the visit at least 10 days after the child had a positive test for the virus, and has had no symptoms for at least 24 hours without taking any acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

If there are any questions or worries at all about symptoms or a finding on the physical examination, referral to a cardiologist for clearance and guidance about returning to physical activity is a good idea.

Children who have had severe illness absolutely need to see a cardiologist, and should be restricted from activity for a minimum of three to six months, only returning when a cardiologist says it’s okay.

Again, this is interim guidance that will evolve as we learn more about COVID-19 and its short- and long-term effects. If you have questions, talk to your doctor.

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Queensland parents urged to avail free dental care to improve children’s oral health and hygiene

Parents are being urged to use free public dental health care as Queensland Health data shows 28 per cent of parents cannot afford to take their child to the dentist unless it is an emergency.

It comes as World Oral Health Day today promotes improving oral health and hygiene with the message, “Be proud of your mouth”.

In Queensland, children between four years of age and those in Year 10, as well as children with parents who have a Centrelink concession card, are eligible for free dental care.

But according to the Queensland Health 2018 data, 30 per cent of parents were not aware that all children between the age of four and Year 10 in school could access free public dental healthcare.

‘Failure of maintenance’

Of children who attended Queensland Health’s services, 55 per cent of five to 14 year-olds had tooth decay, and 24 per cent had four or more teeth with decay.

Queensland’s chief dental officer Mark Brown acknowledged dental care costs could prevent parents from seeking dental health care for their children but stressed the importance of oral health.

He said it was best if tooth decay was detected earlier rather than later, so poor oral health did not become an ongoing problem and cost.

“The time to do that is right at the very beginning when habits are formed, so children get into the habit of having their teeth brushed, habits around diet established early then sets them up for a great future,” Dr Brown said.

He said children should have their first dental appointment by the time they were two years old.

In a recent survey, the Australian Dental Association found 53 per cent of Australians were brushing their teeth twice a day, and only a quarter of adults floss at least once a day, and 31 per cent “never floss”.

Queensland dentist and Australian Dental Association federal treasurer Martin Webb urged families to teach their children to look after their teeth by brushing at least twice a day and flossing once a day.

“It’s the failure of maintenance or the failure of regular care that ends up causing people the pain they suffer from toothache that often leads to losing teeth and then needing dentures,” Dr Webb said.

“Whereas, if they had a positive pro-health attitude towards looking after their smile, their smile will look after them.”

‘Depressing oral health’

Paediatric dentist at Melbournes Royal Children’s Hospital and deputy chair of the federal oral health committee of the Australian Dental Association Mihiri Silva, said poor oral health remained a major public health issue.

Dr Silva said the first thing parents could do was to set up good habits such as avoiding sugary drinks, starting the habit of brushing teeth from when the first tooth comes through, using fluoridated toothpaste from 18 months of age.

“For me as a clinician that works with children, I see incredibly, quite depressing oral health in some children,” Dr Silva said.

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