No matter what we do as parents, when it comes to kids and germs, they just seem to be magnets for one another. There’s no time when this fact is more evident than during cold and flu season. No matter how much we do to protect our kids from the spread and contraction of germs, somehow they always find a way to one another. And while preventative measures like flu shots and regular doctor visits can certainly help to keep our kids safe from the winter “ickies,” short of keeping our kids indoors and away from all other human contact throughout the season, kids will be exposed to germs. However, there are some simple things we can teach even the youngest kids that will not only help them stay healthy, but will lead to positive habits throughout their lives.
Now, some of these might seem a little obvious. After all, as parents we always do our best to teach kids the importance of basics like washing their hands and not sneezing directly on to the person next to them, right?
But reinforcing some of these habits, especially during the vulnerable winter months, will help preserve our kids’ health – and let’s be honest, our own health, too, because we all know that a sick child often leads to a sick family!
It’s also important to note that these tips will keep you and your kids from being the ones who spread germs to others, as well. The key to any of these habits, however, is to be a role model. As adults, we’ve learned our way around germs, in public at least. But the more you model the following habits, the more likely your kids are to carry on with them, even when you’re not around.
1. Keep Your Hands Clean
We’ll go ahead and start with the most basic lesson first. Now, of course, we teach our kids to wash their hands – especially given the number of messes little ones (and even the bigger ones) get into. The catch here is that often, particularly with younger children, we do the hand washing for them. Even toddlers can be taught to wash their own hands, and not just when they’ve made a mess or after a meal. Teaching kids to wash their hands before eating, after eating, after playing (especially in a public space, including a school environment), and anytime they sneeze, cough, or touch their face is critical.
The important part is teaching them how to do it properly. To effectively clean hands, warm water and soap should be used and hands should be washed for 20 seconds. For little ones, consider teaching them a song or other way to count out the time. But don’t forget to reinforce these rules with the older kids, too. I’ve had more than one child in my house try to pass off hands that have quickly been run under water as “clean.”
For those times that warm water and soap aren’t available, be sure to keep antibacterial wipes or child-safe hand sanitizer close by. For older kids, these are items they can carry in their school bags or backpacks. These items can come in handy for cleaning surfaces that are impossible to avoid, as well, such as grocery cart handles and other public surfaces that carry untold hidden germs.
2. Cover Your Cough Or Sneeze – The RIGHT Way!
Again, if you’ve ever had a toddler sneeze right in your face, and chances are you have, it’s guaranteed you’ve already started explaining to them why this is a no-no. But “covering” a cough or sneeze isn’t enough, because the natural instinct is to use our hands for the job. Those hands, now covered in “sneeze,” are going to go right back to playing and spreading germs on every surface they touch. Of course, a tissue is the ideal way to catch a sneeze or cough, but we don’t always have those handy. The commonly accepted way to limit the spread of germs through coughing and sneezing is to place your face in the crook of your elbow. This will “catch” a portion of the germs and prevent them from becoming airborne, as well as keep those hands germ-free. Again, the more you model this for your kids, the more likely they will be to follow your example.
3. Get Plenty Of Rest
Now this one can seem easier said that done. But kids need sleep – a lot of it. The American Academy of Pediatrics performed a 2016 study that found the following recommendations by age:
- Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
Getting proper sleep not only makes everyone happier, but it also leads to a stronger immune system. Or should germs have already taken hold, sleep can allow the body time to rest and heal.
4. Stay Home If You’re Sick – Or Cancel Playdates If A Friend’s Family Is Sick
No one wants to be that parent known as the germophobe – the one who cancels at the slightest hint of a cough in their house or yours. But even less desirable than a germophobe reputation is having a house full of sick kids – or being known as the parent who sends their kids out and about with the plague. So just be smart and know that your family’s health is more important than a missed day of school or a cancelled play date. Use your common sense and should you have another child (or adult, for that matter) over who seems in less than ideal health, don’t be afraid to ask them to take precautions. You can also sanitize surfaces in your own home by keeping a stock antibacterial wipes and cleaners on hand. Again, you don’t have to drive yourself crazy, just be practical.
5. Don’t Share Utensils or Food
For all the times we work so hard to teach our kids to share, there are times when they simply shouldn’t! During the particularly germ-ridden months – or in always germ-ridden environments like school or daycare – sharing is not always caring. Encourage your kids to keep their food, drinks, and utensils to themselves. Labels can help your kids keep track of their things – and also prevent accidental use by another child. If you have a little one who may not be able to read, consider using a sticker or other easily identifiable label to help them know which items are theirs. For kids who take their lunch or snacks to school, it helps to have personal items like drink bottles, special utensils, and food containers that you use consistently and oversee sanitation of on a nightly basis.
If you’ve been a parent for more than a day or two, you already know that childhood ailments are inevitable. So while there’s no way to keep our kids completely insulated from exposure to germs, viruses, and other commonly contracted illnesses, there are things we can do to help them stay healthy, both when we’re with them and when they’re on their own. Again, modelling these behaviors yourself will go a long way in establishing good habits – for you and your kids!
Looking For More Cold And Flu Resources?
If you’re interested in learning about homeopathic remedies for many common illnesses, including cold and flu, be sure to check out our Homeopathic Resource Guide to Common Childhood Ailments. Or whip up some of these tasty cold and flu-fighting soups that not only offer powerful germ-fighting and immunity-boosting power, but are delicious to boot!