Why read: If you dread the flu season, check out these practical tips for keeping kids healthy throughout the school year.
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Doesn’t your heart break in pieces when your little one returns home barely dragging his feet in melancholy, yet again?
He then comes straight to you, wraps his weakened arms around your neck and the dreaded phrase follows: “Mommy, I’m not feeling well”.
Next day your husband is all cranky and gets down with whatever your son brought from school. Even your dog walks around sneezing the crap out of his energy-drained body. And all you can think of is – “it won’t be long till I join all this misery myself”.
And then maybe your neighbor’s cat – lounging in the sun in your backyard – would be so kind to pay you a visit and look after you all. Because no one would want to be around you and catch your germs when you all are this sick.
But what if you make this year different?!
Mission: Impossible – keep your kids (and the whole family!) healthy throughout the school year – starts right now!
What are the main prerequisites for keeping kids healthy?
Unfortunately, a universal pill that could keep kids healthy doesn’t exist. WHO and the world’s leading doctors urge parents to take an active position and follow a comprehensive approach directed at improving their child’s ability to resist infections.
Let me start with the basics.
It goes without saying and every pediatrician in the country – and in the world – would confirm this. For a child to be healthy he needs good nutrition, enough time for sleep and rest, and lots of physical activity.
This means you need to meet these three aspects of your child’s life in the right way. Then add some extra immunity-boosting measures to the mix. And you’ll have a healthy child that NEVER gets sick.
I know never is such a strong word but we’re on a “Mission: Impossible” here. Remember?
Now, here are 15 practical tips you should start concentrating on today so you can have sickness free school year!
1. Regular Preventive Care
The only thing I let my son play with when we’re waiting to be called – quite often the wait can take as long as an hour – is the little fountain filled up with rocks outside of the building.
2. Flu Shot
From the day my son was born (he is 4 now), every September – no exceptions, no delays whatsoever – I take him to get the flu shot. And I get it myself too.
I know this is a controversial topic and some parents don’t see the importance of giving their children flu shots. But I am very pro-vaccine. And I do that not only for the sake of my and my child’s health but out of herd immunity. If you haven’t heard of it. It means getting the vaccine to reduce the chance of spreading the virus so that people with a weak immune system wouldn’t get it.
People die from the flu!
People who cannot have a flu shot for various reasons have a weaker immune system (newborns, people with severe medical conditions like cancer, etc. etc.) and children among them. So by not getting vaccinated, we’re the ones who might spread the risk onto them.
Don’t we all own to those people to get that flu shot? All we’ll have is some mild discomfort but will be sure we did our part to stop the spreading of the deadly virus.
3. Eating Healthy
Any parent knows the importance of feeding their children healthy and nutrient-rich foods. A healthy diet helps children to grow and learn. And maintain strong immune system!
But what does healthy eating mean?
I’m a big follower of USDA’s MyPlate program which makes it easy to understand the concept of what our children (and we adults too!) need on our plates to get the required nutrients every day.
Stick to these simple steps to give your child healthy nutritious food.
- Every meal needs to be made from 4 main food categories: whole grains, protein, vegetables, and fruits, plus dairy on the side
- Make half of what your child eats everyday fruits and vegetables. Raw vegetables are the best. Broil, grill, or steam foods instead of frying them.
- Choose healthy sources of protein, such as lean meat, nuts, and eggs.
- Reduce refined grains. Substitute white bread and pasta with whole wheat bread and pasta, white rice with brown rice or wild rice.
- Avoid fast food, junk food, and processed food.
- Offer water or milk instead of sugary fruit drinks and sodas. This will also help keep your child’s teeth healthy and prevent tooth decay.
4. No Force Feeding
We ourselves form our children’s eating habits.
Children are not picky eaters. It’s the parents who make their children such.
- Always offer healthy food and let his organism decide how much he needs to eat. By forcing our children to eat and finish their meal we hinder their natural instincts of feeling full. They end up eating more than their body needs. This can cause issues later on and lead to over-eating. If your child doesn’t have an appetite, look into the issue and fix it.
- Get rid of all the snacking between the meals.
- Put the vegetables on the plate first. When your child is hungry he’ll eat anything.
- Substitute one healthy food by another if he doesn’t want that particular one. But offer that food again next time. And again! Experts say children need for new food to be introduced to them around 10 times for their pallets to get used to it and to actually like it.
When I offer my son a new vegetable he’s adamant to try or something that he knows he doesn’t like, we make a deal. He tries it and if he doesn’t like it he can spit it out. I explained to him the importance of trying new food at least 10 times and we made this into a fun thing. He tries it and then keeps count. By the time we reach 10, he either starts to like the food and gets excited. Or forgets that we keep count and just starts to eat it as he always liked it.
5. Boosting the Immune System
Before school year it’s important to work on strengthening your child’s immunity. There is a combination of things that you could do for this.
- Elderberry syrup – Either make yourself or buy an elderberry syrup and start giving it to your child in September.
- Vitamin C – Include lots of fruits and veggies rich in vitamin C in your child’s diet – berries, citrus, kiwi, bell peppers, and dark green vegetables.
- Zinc is another important immunity-boosting mineral. Protein-rich food (meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, legumes, nuts, and seeds) contain zinc.
- Bone broth – When cooking try using bone broth instead of water. Chicken, beef or even fish bone broth – all would do. Amino acids found in bones help fight inflammation and inhibit infection caused by cold and flu viruses.
- Keep healthy gut – Did you know that 70 to 80 percent of our immune tissue is situated in our digestive tract? To maintain your chid’s healthy gut start giving him probiotics if you aren’t already. In addition to the supplement itself, Yogurt, kefir and fermented food are a great source of natural probiotics.
6. Physical Activity
Even when watching cartoons my boy doesn’t sit still. He climbs up and down the couch or lies down and then gets up or starts to jump (again on the couch!). Believe it or not, I’m glad he does that – because that’s boosting his immunity too.
7. Being Outdoors At Least 3 Hours A Day
This item logically continues the previous one. A lifestyle with a minimum movement spent mostly indoors is detrimental to a child’s health. It provokes obesity, a decrease in immunity, and, as a result, frequent diseases.
Experts say that children need to spend at least 3-6 hours outdoors in any weather. The more the better! It is almost impossible to catch a virus in the fresh air. And the body’s defenses work better outdoors too.
With cooler months we tend to go out less. We wrap up our kids in warm clothes with the fear of them being cold. While, we actually need to do the opposite. Let your child go and play in the rain (and snow), splash in the rain puddles, play with dirt. Fresh cold air will harden his immunity. And if your child gets a runny nose once in a while that’s fine too.
Also try to minimize the child’s stay in enclosed spaces with a large number of people (shopping centers, playrooms, cinemas).
If you’re thinking to yourself now – “Yeah, right, there’s no way I could have my child be 3 hours outdoors.” Here are some tips for you:
- Preschool: Choose a preschool where kids spend lots of time playing outside.
- Backyard: If you have a backyard, patio, balcony – have your child play there for a big chunk of the day. You can arrange a nice play space for him and have his toys there.
- Tinkergarten: Get together with other kids and parents to do some fun activities and exercise outside. The benefits of our kids playing outdoors are so huge, that there’s a company who help parents with just that. If you haven’t heard about Tinkergarten check them out. I’m not an affiliate and I don’t get anything from them, I just really love them. You sign up for a season and every week take part in a fun outdoor activity with your child. Tinkergarten’s fun leaders do everything for you – bring the materials, set the theme, organize the activity. The kids sing, explore, learn something new every week, and all that outdoors. Rain or shine – any weather!
- Sports – Sign up your child for sports activities of his liking. Have him try different sports and choose which one he likes the most. My son loves soccer. He has trainings 2 times a week and then a game every Sunday. All that fitness is outdoors of course.
- Start a vegetable garden – This is something I’m doing myself with my boy this year. I’ve never done any gardening in my whole life. Haven’t planted a single vegetable. But this year when we bought our first house with a nice backyard (the backyard was one of the main reasons we got this particular house so that our son could spend lots of time outside), I’m all into gardening now. We plant, we water, we explore, we dig together. The result is nice juicy organic vegetables and we stay healthy all at once. But even if you don’t have a backyard, you could plant vegetables in big pots on your balcony. Playing with dirt strengthens children’s immunity immensely.
8. Proper Hygiene Regimen
From an early age, every child needs to know and understand the importance of maintaining good personal hygiene.
- Hand washing – Teach your child how to wash hands properly. After a number of reminders, this will become a habit. And even when you’re not around your child will know hands need to be washed after using the bathroom and before eating.
- Covering the nose and mouth with a tissue or hand when sneezing and coughing. Turning away from other people even better.
- Using separate utensils and towels. Your child needs to have his own towel at home. Most preschools use paper towels now, but if not make sure he has his own towel.
9. Clean But Not Sterile
While it’s important for any child to wash hands frequently and maintain a good personal hygiene, there is no need to keep everything sterile. Exposure to germs is actually something that strengthens immunity.
Don’t sterilize your child’s surroundings. Don’t forbid children to play with animals. But at the same time remind them to wash hands afterward and not put hands in the mouth after contact with a dog or any other animal.
10. Good Sleep And Rest
Nothing should get in the way of your child’s sleep.
How much a child sleeps can have a big impact on his health, growth, and development. Lack of sleep affects the immune system, mood, temperament, and ability to learn.
Children who are not rested and do not get a good night’s sleep are more prone to catch viruses.
A good nighttime routine helps children calm down before bed, get into a more relaxed state and fall asleep easier.
Don’t let your child have any screen time after dinner or at least 2 hours before bed. Electronic stimulants interfere with falling and staying asleep.
11. Hardening the immune system
As soon as the weather starts to get cooler in the fall many parents make the mistake of limiting their children’s exposure to chilliness. This is something you would want to avoid.
The optimal temperature for a child’s room is 66-70°F. So when turning your heater on in the fall/winter make sure the house doesn’t get too hot.
Always bathe your child in cool water. Start with cooler and adjust to the level that is comfortable for your child. With time he’ll learn to shower in cool water.
Don’t limit your child’s intake of cold drinks. No need to warm up the milk. Ice cream, popsicles, cold drinks – all this is a good “training” for local immunity. But, of course, it’s important not to overdo it!
12. Keeping the house free of allergens
Of course, the more your child spends outdoors the better. But when in the house here is how you can keep an optimally healthy environment for your family:
- Before the new school year, try to make deep cleaning of the house. Get rid of all dust accumulators. Have all the carpets and stuffed toys washed. Carry out wet cleaning every week or twice a month.
- Switch to chemical-free cleaning products. I like this multi-surface natural cleaner with lavender scent.
- Make a habit to let fresh air in every morning – even if it’s freezing cold outside. The only alternative to this is using air purifier but still, nothing could beat fresh crisp morning air.
- Never smoke near your children and do not let anyone smoke in your house.
- As soon as you turn on the heater in the winter, start using a humidifier in your child’s room and your own bedroom too. Cold viruses live longer in dry air. So a good humidifier is a must in any child’s room and nursery in colder months when the humidity drops.
- Add houseplants to your child’s room. Not only will they help with purifying the air but also add beauty and character to your home.
13. Saline drops
Always have saline spray handy during the cold season. I even keep one at home and one in the car.
Saline drops (saltwater) is the only 100% safe and natural solution that you can use to clear your child’s nose starting from newborn and up.
Even when your child’s nose is not stuffed or runny, you can use it daily to moisturize the nasal mucosa and increase its protective functions.
14. Weekly detox baths
No matter how hard we try to keep our house free of allergens and harmful chemicals, we can’t avoid them completely. Toxic chemicals are everywhere – in the food we eat, the water we drink, in skincare and hair care, the medicine we take, products we clean our house with, air pollutants.
Our body works hard to filter these toxins through the liver, blood, skin, kidneys, and lungs. But when it gets overloaded with toxins, our immune system slows down and many organs stop functioning optimally.
Weekly detox baths help our body to unburden from harmful chemicals and have a huge array of health benefits, especially for growing kids.
There are many different ways you could make a detox bath but my favorite includes two ingredients – Epsom Salt (or Magnesium Flakes – even better for kids) and baking soda (to neutralize the chemicals in the water). If you use essential oils you could add those too but that’s completely optional.
Here’s how to make a detox bath:
- For children under 60 lbs – add 1/2 cup of Epsom Salt or Magnesium Flakes and 1/4 cup of baking soda.
- For children 60 lbs and up – 1 cup of Epsom Salt or Magnesium Flakes and 1/2 cup of baking soda.
- Stir well and make sure you keep your child in the bath for at least 20 minutes.
- Don’t leave your child alone and watch for him not to drink the bathwater.
- Give him to drink lots of water before and after the bath which will help to flush out the toxins.
It’s no secret that a good sense of humor has positive effects on our health – both physical and psychological.
When we laugh the content of the “hormone of joy” – endorphin – increases in the blood. Studies have shown that people who laugh more are healthier – they have better resistance to illness and physical problems, are less likely to get depressed and have a stronger immune system.
Even only 10 minutes of laughing per day can have a huge positive difference in your little one’s life.
So don’t keep yourself from making fun faces, tickling your child, laughing at silly jokes and funny shows. Both your child and you will benefit immensely from a good supply of “hormone of joy”.
Depending on your child’s age, this article has some great tips on how to encourage your child’s sense of humor.
Avoid giving your child medication
Even if your child does catch a cold, don’t harry with giving him fever-reducing medications. Most pediatricians recommend only treating a fever if it’s above 102° F.
The main component of good immunity is the immune memory, and your child’s body acquires it only after a successful recovery. Therefore, by treating every slight ailment with medicine, parents often themselves provoke a decrease in their children’s immunity.
Always consult with your pediatrician when your child gets sick and rely on more natural remedies whenever possible. This will harden your little one’s immunity to fight the disease next time around.
One last thing
The start of the school year and the cold season is not a reason to give up on a full healthy life and expect your child to get sick a lot. Healthy habits and timely measures geared to strengthening your child’s immune system will allow you and your family to worry less about getting sick.
And that way you won’t need your neighbor cat’s help after all. Instead, you’ll be able to enjoy fall and winter to the fullest and never receive a call from the school nurse.
What About You?
Is there anything else not on the list that you do to help in keeping kids healthy throughout the school year? Please share with us in the comments below.