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Taking Care of Themselves: Children can do more than we think

Val Podmore

Just when can children take charge of their own health? New research shows that, even at age 5, children are quite clued up on ways to keep well. In our study we talked to 53 Wellington children about what it means to stay healthy and what they know about certain illnesses. To find out how healthy these 5- and 9-year-olds thought they were, we asked them to colour an oval shape using two felt-tip pens, an orange one 'to show how much of you is well', and a blue one 'to show how much of you is sick.' Of course some children turned the oval into a person and coloured bits of blue for 'sore throat' and 'hurt knee'! The majority of the younger children coloured the oval all orange, showing they were 100% well. These 5-year-olds 'centred' on total health - that is, they didn't seem to realise that you can feel a little bit sick even if you are generally healthy. Older children's drawings were more complicated, often with bits of blue to show their health worries. Younger children too, were more likely to think they would stay well their whole lives.

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