It’s late August, and that means your child is excited (and maybe a little nervous) about heading back to school. The return to school can herald another annual event in most households — the arrival of cold and flu season.
If it seems like your kid always gets sick in the fall, you’re probably right. Children typically catch six to 10 colds a year. They tend to occur most often in the fall and winter, when little ones are indoors and exposed to more germs.
Likewise, other virus-borne diseases like the flu and COVID-19 are spread more easily indoors, especially when children are in close contact with each other. (And let’s face it, children aren’t always the best at covering sneezes or keeping their hands to themselves.)
You can’t prevent every cough or sniffle, but here are some strategies for keeping your little one as healthy as possible this school year.
Keep Up With Your Child’s Vaccines
Talk to your pediatrician about what vaccines your child needs — and when. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children over six months old get an annual flu shot to protect against influenza, which is more serious than the common cold. Your pediatrician can also give you up-to-date information about the COVID-19 vaccine, and when it’s right for your child.
It’s also important to stay current with your child’s routine vaccination schedule, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaccines help protect your child from common childhood diseases like measles, mumps, and chickenpox.
Reinforce Good Sleep Habits
Good sleep helps a child’s immunity, as the body rests and regenerates. During sleep, the body produces proteins that fight infection and reduce inflammation, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A good rule of thumb is that children between ages three and five need between 10 and 13 hours of sleep each night; those six to 12 need nine to 12 hours; and teenagers need eight to 10 hours.
Get Back to Healthy Eating
If your child’s summer fare consisted of more sweets than fruits and veggies, it’s time to get back on track with healthy meals. According to the Harvard Medical School, a well-balanced diet boosts your child’s immune system, helping them fight off germs.
Aim to fill half of your child’s plate with fruits and vegetables, then add whole grains and lean protein. Foods with calcium (like plain yogurt) and healthy fats (like olive oil) are important. It’s not easy, but try to limit your child’s sugar intake to the occasional treat of cookies or ice cream.
It’s best for your child to get their nutrients through a well-balanced diet, but talk to your pediatrician about possibly adding vitamins or other supplements if your child is a super-picky eater.
Review Your Child’s Handwashing Technique
There’s good reason to make sure your child is washing their hands properly. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 80% of infections are spread by touch. Washing your hands with warm water and soap removes bacteria and viruses that cause colds, flu, and lung infections.
Twenty seconds is the magic amount of time you should spend washing your hands to rid them of germs. For your child, that translates to singing the “ABC Song” once all the way through.
Children do best when they have a stable home environment and a predictable routine. Feeling stressed can actually lower a child’s ability to fight off germs.
Because the back-to-school period can be an anxious time for children, do your best to provide a calm, comforting environment at home. Start easing into the school routine a few weeks ahead of time (no more late summer nights) and talking about what to expect at school. Provide your child with stress-relieving activities like walks outside, trips to the playground, and time to play alone without feeling rushed.