If you're a parent (or even if you're not), ideally, you've had a break from colds, flu and stomach viruses this summer. But as back-to-school time approaches, parents may start to get concerned about what that means for their kids and their health.
We wish we had a secret formula to shield our kids from all the germs and to keep them healthy, but when a bunch of children are together for hours a day, sicknesses spread like wildfire. What we do have, though, is access to health experts who told us all about ways you can help keep your kids from getting sick this school year.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reminds us that children in pre-K through fourth grade need their parents to advocate for them and talk to the teacher each year about allergies. Let them know what kind(s) of allergies they have and make sure a health plan is in place. As they get older, they become better at speaking for themselves, but it is always important to remind them and encourage them to do so as well as make sure they know how to use medications in an emergency.
Sleep is a big way to keep your child's immunity strong — teens should get about nine hours of sleep each night, and younger kids need about 10 hours per night, Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SheKnows. To get your kids settled and ready for bed on time, Posner suggests having them "avoid screen time about an hour before bedtime," as it helps them fall asleep faster.
Kids should have a well-balanced diet that includes lots of veggies, some fruits, proteins and a lot of water, Posner says, adding that they should avoid junk food — including sodas, juices, fast foods and candy.
Kids should also be eating yogurt, as it contains probiotics, which are "healthy bacteria your body needs to keep your immune system strong," Sara Siskind, a certified nutritional health counselor, tells SheKnows.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in shellfish, salmon, mackerel and herring can "help white blood cells produce a protein which helps clear flu viruses out of the body," she explains.
For our older kids and teens, Dr. Shayla Sullivant, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, stresses how important it is that we check in with our kids on their mental health. One way to do this is by asking them how they are doing and letting them know you are worried about them if you see drastic changes in behavior, she explains.
Similarly, Dr. Mildred F. Carson, a board-certified pediatrician with over 15 years of experience, tells SheKnows that the right amount of sleep and a proper diet will also help your child cope with the stress a new school year can bring.
Regular exercise is important “to keep your immune system strong so that the body is more able to fight off infections,” Carson says, adding that even 15 minutes a day can be beneficial.
Other helpful reminders
Even though it sounds basic, Posner says washing hands is the biggest deterrent when it comes to getting sick. Kids should wash their hands before they eat, after they play on the playground, and after they use the restroom, she says. It’s important to make sure they are using warm water and soap and washing for at least 20 seconds in order for the handwashing to be effective.
There's no doubt that kids are natural germ-spreaders. It takes a bit of extra work to follow the guidelines to protect you and your family, but it's worth it to make it through the school year with fewer sick days.