Cold and flu season can be tough on families — parents and nannies typically feel like they’re wiping perpetually runny noses from November to April and battling one illness after another. And we know what happens when kids are sick — poor quality sleep, a disrupted routine, and lots and lots of whining (so much whining).
The unfortunately reality: Your kids (and you) can’t avoid every bug. The good news? Catching colds and viruses from time to time can actually help your child develop a stronger immune system. But it’s still worth teaching your kids good habits that will prevent the spread of germs as well as those that can help boost your child’s immunity.
Prevent Bugs from Spreading
Being near someone who’s sick doesn’t mean you’re destined for the same illness — viruses are passed by coming into contact with a person’s oral or nasal secretions, not by simply being in the same space. But swapping secretions happens easily with young kids who don’t hesitate to touch and taste pretty much everything they encounter.
There’s a reason hand washing is harped on as the number one way to prevent illness — it is your child’s best protection against colds and viruses. Make sure kids always wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom, and when they come home from school or playing outside. You can also teach your kids to cough and sneeze into their sleeve or elbow instead of their hand. This will help germs from spreading to everything they touch. Finally, remind them to avoid sharing food, drinks, and utensils, wipe down toys after playdates, and properly dispose of tissues.
Skip the Antibacterial Soap
It can be tempting to reach for the hand soap labeled “antibacterial,” but according to a statement by the Food and Drug Administration, by late 2017, these products will be off the shelves due to a lack of evidence that they are effective in killing germs. Moreover, some evidence suggests that the chemicals that make soap antibacterial, including triclosan and triclocarban, may compromise your child’s immune system. The bottom line: Stick with regular soap and water.
Get the Flu Shot
Watching your child get vaccinated is heart-wrenching, but a few minutes of crying (yours or your child’s) is totally worth the benefits of an annual flu shot. Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has to say:
Immunizing your child is the best way to prevent influenza and the serious complications that can result from an infection. Each year, on average, 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications… Being immunized every year significantly reduces the risk of a child being hospitalized due to flu.
The AAP and Centers for Disease Control recommend that all people older than 6 months get the flu vaccination each year. And, while the flu vaccine isn’t full-proof (it’s about 60 percent effective) if your child does get the flu, being vaccinated means the virus will be milder.
When is the best time to get the flu shot? Kidshealth.org recommends getting vaccinated in the fall, “before the flu season is in full force,” because it gives the body a chance to build up immunity to the virus. But even if you missed that deadline, it still might be smart to vaccinate your kids. We recommend asking your doctor and putting a reminder on the calendar for next year.
Boost Your Child’s Immunity
Instill these healthy habits to naturally protect your child against colds and viruses:
Fill up on fruits, veggies and other whole foods. A healthy diet can help keep an immune system strong. Stick with whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and veggies and do your best to convince picky eaters to try these nutritious foods. And, if your child seems to be suffering from a constant, never-ending cold, consider getting tested for food allergies, which could be the culprit.
Avoid antibiotics when you can. Don’t expect your pediatrician to write a prescription for antibiotics for every cold and fever. While it may seem like a quick fix, the doc is doing your child a favor. Antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses, and overuse of antibiotics is a real concern. Frequent use has led to bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant, so steer clear when you can.
Don’t skimp on sleep. A healthy sleep schedule — up to 14 hours for toddlers, 13 hours for preschoolers and 11 hours for older children — is key to maintaining a healthy immune system. Little ones should be on a regular and predictable routine to keep bedtimes in check.
Teach stress management. Even young kids can experience stress and anxiety, which could be the cause of frequent headaches or digestive issues or contributing to other illnesses. Use these tips to help your child learn how to manage stress.
Remember: These healthy habits aren’t just for flu season. Practice them year-round to strengthen your child’s immunity.