Welcome to Sickness Season, where every child is contagious and every surface has a germ on it. It’s true that your child’s immunity will be under more-constant bombardment (so will yours), but don’t feel doomed to a winter filled with illness. Here are five ways to boost your child’s immunity during the particularly tricky flu and cold season.
It’s a fact that kids are little germ sponges.
It takes years of training them not to touch disgusting things. Or keep their hands out of their mouths. Or sneeze on other people.
Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs. A little bit of soap and running water go a long way! If you’re out and about, hand sanitizer will do in a pinch.
Teach them early to cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze with the crook of their elbow instead of their hands.
Also, the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an era where mask wearing is totally acceptable. If you think your kid is sick but you don’t have a choice about taking them out in public, using a cloth mask is a very effective way to keep them from getting others sick. (Keep in mind, children under the age of 2 should never wear a mask. They aren’t old enough to breathe effectively while wearing one.)
Lastly, one of the most hygienic things you can do for your household when one child gets sick is to throw away their toothbrush. While they can’t get reinfected by the same virus, the germs on their toothbrush can hop to a sibling’s and get them sick. And if it’s a bacterial infection like strep throat, they can reinfect themselves as well as others.
Sleep is right up there with nutrition and physical activity in terms of how vital it is for a healthy body. Adequate sleep helps kids fight off infection, maintain a healthy metabolism, and do well in school.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants need 12 to 16 hours of sleep a day, toddlers need 11 to 14, and preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours a day. All of those ranges include naps. Those are just ranges, though, and your child may need more sleep than others their age just because of who they are.
One of the best ways to ensure quality sleep for your child (and yourself) is by shutting off screens an hour or two before bedtime and to keep screens out of bedrooms.
The food we put in our bodies is what fuels our immune systems. Without good fuel, we’ll be more susceptible to harmful viruses and illnesses.
For kids and adults alike, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that means diets with fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and fat–free or low–fat milk products. It also means limiting saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.
We can feel you rolling your eyes. Regular diets with all of those requirements are hard to come by. You’re probably tired of feeling guilty over your child’s diet without the reminder. If you feel that way, then don’t make all of those changes at once. Slowly start moving your family toward more immune-friendly foods. One of the best places to start is with added sugars. It’s something that must be listed on food labels, so it’s easy to find and calculate. The American Heart Association suggests:
- For kids over 2 years old, keep added sugars to less than 25 grams per day.
- For kids under 2 years old, keep added sugars out of their diet altogether.
A moving body is a healthy body!
Research shows a link between physical activity and a boosted immune system. Experts at Harvard suggest that children be active for at least an hour every day. That doesn’t mean running a marathon. That could be a combination of walking, dancing, or playing outside.
Vaccines do more than just protect your child from sickness — they protect everyone around them, too! Keeping your child up-to-date on their childhood vaccinations can help prime their immune system against illnesses like meningitis, polio, and chicken pox. The flu shot is recommended yearly for all people 6 months of age or older, so talk to your pediatrician about scheduling your child’s next booster.
Just like with any health issues, talk to your pediatrician or family doctor if you have concerns about vaccinations. There’s nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to having questions about your child’s health. But there’s a lot of misinformation out there, so have an open conversation with your trusted health care provider if you have questions.
The great part about this list is that it applies to the whole family! Regardless of whether you are 2, 12, 32, or 82, all of these tips can help you stay healthy during the cold and flu season. In fact, the more your family unit can work together on these five things, the easier it will be for everyone to stay well and recover faster.