A Good Start: How to Help Your Child Stay Healthy in Daycare

August 2020

More than 12 million children under the age of 5 are in some form of child care. Many are enrolled in daycare centers, where they can learn, play and interact with other kids. Unfortunately, thanks to close quarters and shared toys, it is all too easy to pick up a bug. It’s just the nature of things: Small children tend to carry germs.

While the average American adult will come down with two to three colds each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that the number for kids is higher. Studies also suggest that children under the age of 3 tend to get sick more often than those who stay at home. Between playing in the dirt; pulling at diapers; putting fingers into their eyes, mouths and noses; and then touching everything in sight — including each other — children are in a unique position to both pass and pick up a flu or cold infection while at daycare. So what’s a working parent to do? Here are four tips to help keep your child healthy while in daycare:

1. Start practicing hand hygiene early.

While it may seem like trying to get a 3-year-old to wash hands consistently is an exercise in futility, the Cleveland Clinic says encouraging kids to wash their hands, especially before meal times and after using the bathroom, is a surefire way to help reduce infections. Stanford Children’s Hospital says finding success involves both gently encouraging them and, most importantly, leading by example — your kids will model what they see you do. They also suggest that parents make handwashing easy for kids by making sure both the sink and soap accessible.

2. Keep sick kids home.

Colds, flu and pink eye regularly make the rounds at daycare centers. If your child is experiencing symptoms for any of these conditions, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you keep them at home. If your child has a cold, runny nose, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting or fever, the rule of thumb is to keep them out of daycare until 24–48 hours after the symptoms resolve without the use of medication to control them. That said, your daycare center may have its own specific policy. When in doubt, follow its guidelines.

3. Vaccinate.

Staying up-to-date with your child’s vaccinations can help them stay healthy at both daycare and school. Vaccines not only help keep your child from picking up a virus but also protect others at the daycare facility from falling ill, including younger children who haven’t received all of their immunizations and daycare teachers and staff.

4. Review your day care’s cleaning and vaccination policies.

While parents should do what they can, it’s important that your daycare center also commits to limiting the spread of disease. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you assess your child’s facility to make sure it has strong policies and procedures around requiring vaccinations for both children and staff as well as strict protocols for regularly sanitizing and disinfecting bathrooms, changing areas, toys and common areas.

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