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Eye and vision problems in preschool children

Preschool girl wearing spectacles while painting

During the preschool years from ages 3 to 6, your child will be fine-tuning the vision and visual skills he already has developed during the infant and toddler years.

Preschool vision tasks vary with a child's age and activities. For example, many young preschoolers are learning to ride tricycles and master the complex eye-hand coordination needed to pedal, steer and watch where they're going at the same time.

Older preschoolers are learning how to integrate vision and body motions (motor skills) by playing sports such as football (keep your eye on the ball!), and working on the fine motor skills needed to write their names.

Warning signs

If you have children between the ages of 3 and 6, be aware of these warning signs of possible preschool vision problems:

Timely eye exams help ensure your preschooler's vision is developing properly.

  • Consistently sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close

  • Squinting

  • Tilting the head to see better

  • Frequently rubbing eyes, even when not sleepy

  • Shielding eyes

  • Excessive tearing

  • Closing one eye to read, watch TV or see better

  • Avoiding activities that require near vision, such as colouring or reading, or distance vision, such as playing tag

  • Complaining of headaches or tired eyes

Schedule an appointment with an optician if your preschooler exhibits any of these signs.

Refractive errors

The most common preschool vision problems are refractive errors:

  • Short sightedness (myopia) is another common preschool vision problem. Myopia causes distant objects to be blurry, like viewing a whiteboard in a classroom.

  • Astigmatism causes blurry or distorted vision at all distances.

Refractive errors affecting young children typically can be fully corrected with eyeglasses.

The First Eye Exam

Even if your child exhibits no symptoms of a refractive error or other preschool vision problems, they should have an eye exam by the age of 6 months, again at age 2 to 2 and a half, and also prior to starting school.

Having a complete eye exam before your child enters school allows enough time to catch and correct any vision problems that may interfere with learning.

DON'T LET POOR VISION AFFECT YOUR CHILD'S LIFE: Find an optician near you and book an appointment.

Children who need vision correction because of refractive errors should have annual eye exams throughout their school years to evaluate any changes.

During preschool and the school years, your child's visual system is developing along with the rest of their body, so annual eyeglass prescription changes are common. SEE RELATED: Read more about children's eye exams and how often they are needed.

Make sure your child receives a comprehensive eye exam from an optician, not just vision screenings from school nurses or paediatricians.

Vision screenings may help spot problems, but they often miss them, too, because they are not comprehensive or performed by an optician. Vision screenings typically are administered by people who are not trained to detect and diagnose all vision and eye health problems.

Motivating your child to wear spectacles

If your child needs spectacles, ask them to be involved in selecting them. If they help choose the frame, they will be more motivated to wear the glasses.

Also, explain the benefits of the glasses, using specific examples — such as, "Your new glasses will help you see the ball better when you play catch."

Schedule the eye exam and glasses selection at a time that's good for your child. As you know, some kids are more focused early in the day, while others come to life after lunch or an afternoon nap.

Don't visit the optician when your child is tired, irritable or hungry.

When choosing frames, select a few styles for your child with the help of an experienced optician. Then give your child the final choice of the glasses he'll wear.

Make the selection process a positive event, discussing how lots of people they know wear glasses, and how they see much better.

Make sure the frames you choose are fitted properly for your child and are comfortable. No one, especially a child, will wear uncomfortable glasses.

SEE RELATED: Vision problems of school-age children

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