You can help your child to develop strong connections between their eyesight and their interaction with the world in a variety of ways:
Play “I Spy with my little eye”
Snap together building bricks and other creative toys
Get creative with drawing and colouring pictures
Throw and catch a ball or bean bag
Look at and identify pictures on a page while reading to them.
Interacting with your child in these sorts of ways doesn’t just help their vision to grow stronger. You’re also aiding their overall development. Co-ordination, reading, and associations between words and objects are all important functions for every child – and vision affects them all.
If your child suffers an eye injury, it’s important that you seek medical help as soon as possible.
If something is stuck in their eye, do not try to remove it. If chemicals or perfume have got into their eye, flush the eye out thoroughly with fresh running water then seek help.
Eye injuries are often preventable and you can help to avoid problems by following a few simple safety tips:
Avoid toys with sharp points
Keep chemicals and perfumes securely out of reach, locked in a cupboard or on a high shelf
Check your garden – make sure there are no sharp edges or exposed screws or nails and cut back shrubs with pointed leaves or low-hanging branches.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that children learn through imitation. Help your child learn healthy habits by demonstrating the right behaviour for safe play and work:
Wear safety glasses when you work with chemicals and other hazardous materials, and when you do DIY
Wear brim hat and sunglasses to shield your eyes on bright, sunny days
Wash your hands often and keep them away from your eyes and nose to prevent the spread of colds and other viruses.
Your child may not complain of any problems with their eyes, but if you notice anything that seems unusual, trust your instincts and have it checked out. For instance, if your child sits very close to the TV, rubs their eyes, blinks a lot or holds objects very close to their face to look at them, talk to your GP or health visitor or book an eye test^1^.
It’s important that you take your child for regular eye tests from a young age because as well as having an impact on what your child sees, poor eyesight can affect learning ability and self-esteem.
Once they’ve started school, it is recommended that children have regular eye tests at least once every two years. These tests are free for all children under 16 (and those under 19 in full-time education)^1^.
Parents are usually the first to notice that their children may have special vision needs so don’t hesitate to see your GP if you are concerned. Some common concerns include:
The term 20/20 vision is used to describe “normal” eyesight. In an eye test, your child will be regarded as having 20/20 vision if they can see the same line of letters from a distance of 20 feet that someone with normal vision can see from 20 feet^2^.
There are three common reasons why your child may not have 20/20 vision:
Short-sightedness (myopia): your child will be able to see objects that are close to them quite clearly, but objects in the distance will be blurred^3^. They may read without difficulty, but may squint to see objects that are across the playground.
Long-sightedness (hyperopia): your child’s vision will be blurry at all distances, but it will be worse for objects that are close to them. Trying to focus may cause a squint (turn) in their eye^3^.
Astigmatism: the shape of the front of the eye is not entirely spherical, it is more rugby ball shaped. If it is not corrected it can lead to distorted vision, for objects both near and far away^3^.
These three issues can be corrected easily with prescription glasses, which, in some cases, are free for children under 16 in the UK.
If one of your child’s eyes turns inwards, outwards, upwards or downwards while the other eye looks forward, they may have a squint. Their eye may not do this all the time, and it may not be terribly obvious, but if they look at you with one eye closed or with their head turned to one side, it may mean they have a squint^4^. You should see your GP if this is happening regularly because, left untreated, a squint can develop into lazy eye^4^.
Lazy eye (amblyopia) occurs when there is reduced vision in one eye because the eye and the brain are not working together. The brain may start to ignore what the lazy eye sees. The condition is hard to treat the older a child gets, so it is important that it is picked up as early as possible^5^.
If your child’s eyes are itchy, red or irritated and they have a sticky discharge or seem stuck together with crustiness in the morning, they may have conjunctivitis. This can be caused by an allergy or an infection. Conjunctivitis can be easily treated with eye drops or ointment from a pharmacy, so ask your pharmacist, GP or eye care practitioner for advice.