Each school year brings excitement. Classrooms are filled with children from a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles. After-school activities provide additional opportunities for kids to interact, while enriching their lives.
For many parents, the academic year also invokes images of an upcoming “sick season.” Children who may not normally be in contact with one another are often in closed areas for much of the day — sharing illnesses, among other things.
The good news is that you have a big influence over your children’s health. Starting and continuing healthy habits may have a significant effect on their well being. Here’s how to help prevent illness in your family.
Wash Your Hands
Many germs are spread by our hands, and one of the best ways to prevent illness is by good hand hygiene. Teaching your children to wash their hands often with soap and water for the amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” once is ideal. Occasions that call for hand washing include after restroom use, before eating, when hands are visibly soiled and if kids have been in contact with someone who is ill. Clean water and soap are the preferred hand-washing method, but are not always available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol when water and soap are unavailable. Another way to help reduce sickness from hand contact is avoiding unnecessary touching of the eyes, nose and mouth.
Cover Coughs and Sneezes
Knowing how to handle a cough or sneeze can help keep your children from spreading germs. Keep disposable facial tissues readily available — especially when a cough is present, and dispose of used, soiled facial tissues immediately to reduce unnecessary contact with germs. If a facial tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into the crook of the arm or into a washable garment.
Get a Flu Shot
The seasonal influenza vaccine is recommended for most children age six months and up. The vaccine can help prevent illness or reduce the length and severity of influenza. Getting the flu u vaccine can help protect your child and other family members who cannot receive the vaccine. The CDC recommends a booster influenza vaccine one month after the first vaccine if your child is under the age of nine and has not had a flu u vaccine previously. The booster vaccine maximizes the immune response to attain better protection. Scared of shots? A flu u vaccine in the form of a nasal mist may be available if your child is at least two years old.
Dress for the Weather
Wear appropriate clothing as the outdoor temperatures fluctuate and drop, to help prevent exposure to the cold. A well-insulated, water-resistant outer coat can help protect your child. A hat, gloves, scarf and waterproof shoes or boots will also help prevent heat loss. When it’s cold outside, it may be warm inside. Or the day may start out cold, warming up in the afternoon. Dressing in layers may help your child adjust to differing temperatures.
Your children’s immune system is also influenced by the quality and length of sleep they receive. Getting enough sleep and sleeping well can help prevent sickness, even after exposure to an illness. Good rest and sleep also help the healing process if your child becomes ill. Sleep helps reduce the length of the sickness and a quicker return to your child’s normal self. The CDC recommends different lengths of sleep for different ages. The recommended amount of sleep per day is 11 to 12 hours for preschool-aged children, at least 10 hours for school-aged children, and 9 to 10 hours for teenagers. A good bedtime routine to help promote healthy sleep habits can help reach the recommended amount of sleep.
Helping your child relax during downtime is important for healthy immune system functioning. High levels of stress can weaken the immune system and make children more prone to illness. Highly stressful environments and situations can negatively affect the entire family. Children may experience stress and express it a little differently from adults. Be aware of your children’s environment and ways to help promote restful periods.
Additional Healthy Habits
* Make healthy food choices
* Drink water
* Engage in regular physical activity
* Avoid smoke exposure
* Avoid contact with ill people
* Stay home when sick
* Disinfect high-contact surfaces
Creating healthy habits for your family goes a long way toward overall well-being. There are additional habits you may adopt to help keep your kids healthy. Your healthcare provider is a great resource for maintaining your child’s well-being. You are creating healthy habits today to help your family be active and happy.
Sarah Wulfers, APRN, CPNP-PC, is a PNP at Westview Pediatric Care in Tulsa, OK.