Arming your kids in the fight against winter illness

February 13, 2019
Arming your kids in the fight against winter illness | Texas Children's Hospital
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It’s that time of year again – our children are back in school after the holidays, the weather is constantly changing and infections are running rampant. While many of us cherish this time of year, sick children can definitely put a damper on day-to-day routines.

It’s important to remember during this time of year that the severity of an infection can be influenced by the strength of one’s immune system. For example, two people can catch the same exact virus, but, depending on their immune function, experience very different symptoms.

Therefore, as a caregiver, it’s important to keep your child as healthy as possible in the fight against winter illness. Here are some great tips to keep in mind:

Sleep

There’s a reason why doctors always ask about your sleeping patterns during checkups. It’s because sleep is incredibly important for growth and development and critical in leading a healthy life. When you sleep, the body restores and repairs itself. It’s also vital in battling illness. So make sure your children are getting enough sleep. Those deprived of sleep are without a doubt more prone to germs and viruses. It’s recommended for school-aged children to receive nine to 11 hours of sleep per night.

Diet

The old saying, “You are what you eat,” is somewhat true, especially when it comes to young children. Poor diet can lead to inflammation in the body, which will stress out the immune system and lead to further illness. If you fill your child’s diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, they’ll receive all kinds of natural immune-boosting vitamins.

Try the 80:20 rule for healthy eating. Eat the healthiest you can 80 percent of the time and give your family flexibility for the other 20 percent. Offer your child healthy, well-balanced meals, including afternoon snacks consisting of fruits and vegetables. Talk to your pediatrician to see if vitamins are recommended for your child. 

Flu shot

Immunizations teach the body’s immune system how to prepare for an invasion. Last year marked a particularly severe flu season. The flu can be dangerous, and children and babies are at high-risk of contracting the flu and spreading it to others. The flu shot also reduces doctor’s visits, missed work/school days, flu-related hospitalizations and fatalities in children. Flu shots are offered right now. It’s not too late to get one!

Exercise daily and limit screen time

Lack of physical activity is a major cause of illness. Children need time away from screens to thrive. Try limiting all screen time to one hour on school nights and two hours on the weekend. Conversely, try to ensure your kids get one hour of physical activity daily, outside of school. Another positive benefit of exercise – it’s linked to better academic performance and improved mental health. Make it a family effort!

Hand washing

Doctors agree hand washing is crucial to limiting the spread of illness. Try to get your child to wash their hands before and after meals, after using the bathroom and after being in public spaces. Hand washing is the best way to prevent germs, but remember there is no evidence supporting the use of antibacterial soaps or heavy-duty cleaners for children. Therefore, simple soap and water are good enough for hand washing.

Try to keep the kids home when sick

When your child is sick, try your best to keep them at home and make sure they get plenty of rest, fluids and supportive care. Giving your child a chance to sleep and fight off minor illnesses not only minimizes the spread of disease in child-care settings, but also increases their chance for a quick recovery. If your child is sent back to school too quickly, they’re more likely to catch a secondary infection, which could prolong symptoms.

Limit stress

Unfortunately, experiencing physical and mental stress can have a detrimental effect on the immune system. When the body is under stress, immune function declines. During the school year, be vigilant of your child’s stress levels and keep up with their activity.

This cold and flu season is in full swing, and the toll these illnesses take on a family can really be minimized with proper care and diligent behavior. By teaching your child important and healthy habits, illnesses can be kept to a minimum.

To find your nearest Texas Children’s Pediatrics location, click here. For MyChart, click here

Post by:

Samira Armin, MD, FAAP

I have longed to be a pediatrician since I was four years old. In my spare time I enjoy writing fiction, playing tennis and raising my two little girls. 

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