Teaching your Kids to Take Care of Their Eyes

Children have a special perspective on the world. They are often seeing so many things for the first time, or familiar sights through innocent eyes. What they see and how they see at an early age can shape their role in the world. How they treat their eyes in their formative years can also impact their vision as they grow. That’s why it’s so important to teach kids from a young age what it means to see well and how to care for their eyes. 

Problems related to a child’s vision can often go undetected, because a child might not even realize anything is wrong. Left untreated, certain conditions can cause harm that could have been preventable. Many times, teachers and parents will rely on school-wide vision screenings to catch these issues, but this testing can be inaccurate 63-73% of the time. For this reason, getting your child a comprehensive eye exam early on (before starting school) is recommended by the American Optometric Association. 

Even with proper diagnosis, you can’t always be there to make sure your child is taking good care of their eyes, but you can make sure they are well educated on how to keep their eyes healthy! 

Proper Nutrition

Eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet is the best place to start for a lifetime of eye health. Choosing foods with the nutrients that eyes need for development is vital. Important nutrients to focus on are Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Zinc, Omega-3 fatty acids, Carotene, and Lutein. 

As a parent, make sure your child is eating enough leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens. Encourage healthy snacks like yellow fruits rich in carotene like mango, pineapple, and banana, or dry fruits like almonds and pistachios that are full of Vitamin E. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, bell peppers, tomatoes and peas, while Zinc can be found in red meats, poultry, whole grains and nuts. Fish like salmon, tuna, halibut, and shrimp are full of Omega-3’s, just be sure to avoid fish like mackerel, swordfish, ahi tuna as they have higher mercury levels and should be avoided by younger children. Fortunately many of these foods are important to overall health and will benefit much more than just a child’s eyes. We know kids can be picky eaters, but it’s worth the fight. When it comes to eating healthy, habits developed at a young age can stay with them through their lives. 

You’ll also want to teach your child to be aware of their water intake. Drinking enough water is not only necessary for all around health, but it also helps to keep your eyes fresh, moisturized, and it can reduce puffiness. Your eyes are surrounded by a fluid that helps to protect the eye by creating a barrier between your eyeball and dust and other particles that float in the air. Staying hydrated helps to keep a healthy balance of this essential eye fluid. 

Exercise

It’s no secret that regular exercise is a major factor for general health, but did you know it’s important for your eye health too? Children who regularly exercise, either through participation in sports, riding their bike, or just playing outside, tend to have healthier body weights than children who get little to no exercise. Keeping a healthy body weight drastically decreases your risk of developing diabetes, a disease that can lead to severe eye conditions and is the leading cause of blindness in adults aged 20-74. Although the chances of developing type 2 diabetes as a child are slight, instilling a positive attitude toward exercise in your child can help them avoid these conditions later on.

Glasses, Sunglasses, and Safety Goggles

If a doctor prescribed glasses for your child, it’s because they need them!  So it’s important to make sure your child wears their glasses in situations that demand them. But it’s also important to have honest conversations with your child about how not wearing them can potentially be harmful. A child may not like how their glasses look or feel, but they should understand that not wearing them can cause unpleasant symptoms like headaches or strained eyes. 

Children also like to trade stuff, so also tell your child knows not to wear other children’s glasses, or to let other children wear theirs. It may seem fun to switch glasses with your friend on the playground, but wearing glasses that aren’t yours can result in headaches or eye strain. 

Sunglasses are also important when it comes to protecting your eyes. Teach your child to always have a pair of sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection on hand, and to avoid looking directly at the sun. Prolonged UV exposure can be hurtful to the eyes, and increase the risk of cataracts, AMD, and other eye-related complications when they are older. But sunglasses aren’t the only eye protection you should be utilizing; 

Safety goggles are also important, especially for children who may be involved with sports. Wearing goggles will prevent accidental eye injury by shielding your child’s eyes from any dirt kicked up during a soccer game, accidental scratches while playing outdoors, minor (but still potentially harmful) accidents creating science experiments for school projects, scratches while helping with outdoor chores, or even infection from opening their eyes underwater in a pool. 

Give Your Eyes a Break 

While your child may insist they’re fine reading with just a nightlight, make sure to encourage them to use extra lighting whenever they’re doing homework, reading, or crafting. Proper light levels while focusing on things up close will also help to avoid eye strain and its resulting headaches. 

Finally, help your child understand the concept of digital eye strain and that prolonged screen time is important can be bad for their eyes. Some grownups could benefit from this lesson as well. Too much screen time can cause blurry vision, headaches, strain, and dry eyes. Hourly breaks from TV, after-school video game sessions and even reading is essential. Teach your child the 20-20-20 rule if they’re an avid screen-user. Tell them to take 20 seconds, every 20 minutes to focus on something about 20 feet away from them. This little exercise can help them avoid digital Eye Strain.

Last but not least they need to get enough sleep! Eyes need adequate rest after working hard all day too, and by going to bed at a reasonable hour for a decent rest, eyes will get the rest they need. 

Keep it Clean and Speak Up!

Get your child into the habit of washing their hands regularly. For example, habitually washing their hands when coming home after being out, before meals, after using the bathroom, and periodically throughout the school day. 

Rubbing your eyes with unwashed hands can give germs a direct way into your eye that can cause infection and even common illnesses like the cold or flu. It’s also important to make sure your child knows to never insert or remove contacts with unwashed hands as that too can also cause infection. 

Lastly, let your child know not to be afraid to speak up if they are having difficulty seeing the board, their books, or are having headaches while trying to focus in class. Your child’s eyes are constantly working while they’re at school. 

What to Do If Your Child Is Experiencing Vision Problems

If you suspect eye issues with your child don’t be afraid to let their teacher know, and ask to have your child sit near the front of the class for better visibility. Ask your child about how their vision is at school:

  • Is your vision blurry? 

  • Do you catch yourself squinting a lot? 

  • Do you ever have trouble seeing things on the board school? 

  • Do your eyes hurt or feel tired after school? 

  • Do you need to hold your book close to your face to see? 

  • Do you think you might be mixing up colors?

Make it clear to your child that it is important to tell their teacher (and you!) if your eyes are bothering them, or if they notice any changes in your vision. Consult a doctor immediately for an eye examination if any discomforts or changes in vision are occurring.

If it turns out your child does need glasses and you’re looking for an alternative, orthokeratology may be an option. The ortho-k process can stop and even reverse the deterioration of your child’s eyesight. As soon as your child is diagnosed with eyesight problems, schedule an ortho-k consultation to find out if this procedure can help your child achieve a lifetime of clear vision. 

As in all things, when it comes to taking care of their eyes, set a good example for your child. From diet and exercise to screen breaks, if they see you doing it, they will learn to do it themselves. 

Ruth Domber