Put them in a plastic bubble. The End.
Nah, just kidding. Although, there may actually be a demand for that (business idea, anyone?).
As much as we WISH we could put our kids in a plastic bubble, that just isn't realistic for obvious reasons. I don't think that would be very healthy either. There are, however, some very realistic things you CAN do to keep your kids healthy, and these are things you should do way before cold and flu season even hits. Being proactive is key to keeping your child healthy. Even then, your family may not make it out unscathed, but the cold or flu your child does catch may be way less severe than it would otherwise have been.
After observing families and children over the last several years, there are some children who are NEVER sick, and there are some children who seem to catch everything that goes around. There are, of course, factors that cannot be controlled contributing to children who tend to get sick often (for example, children who were born prematurely often are at a higher risk of developing infection - March of Dimes). Why is it that some children are more susceptible to catching colds while others seem to have stronger immune systems? While I'm no expert, I have noticed some trends, and I also have some tips. Read on!
Keep Sick Kids at Home
This is my first and most important tip for keeping everyone healthy. If your child is sick, please keep them at home to recover. Don't bring them to the grocery store (if you can avoid it at all), don't take them to the Chick-Fil-A play place, and for goodness sakes, please don't send them to school or daycare. When sick children are out in public places like this, germs are passed along and others are at risk of being infected.
When you send your child to school or daycare with a cold that may be contagious, it's almost guaranteed to spread. At The Savvy Apple, we are constantly disinfecting and cleaning, but this will only go so far. Kids love to swap germs, especially the littlest of the littles. Their hands (or other objects) are often in their mouths, they haven't grasped the concept of covering their noses and mouths for sneezes and coughs, and they occasionally are making contact with each other through hugs (or, let's be realistic, hits or bites!). Classrooms make the perfect storm for germ sharing: a bunch of kids in close quarters.
As a working parent, I know the dread that is felt when your child is sick, and you're expected to be at work. I have been there. When I was teaching, my husband and I would trade off days or call in a favor to the grandparents or a family friend. It was hard because if my husband wasn't at work, he didn't get paid. There were times I would put in for a sub for my classroom, only to find out that there was no sub, and I had to go in anyway. I still did not send my children to school sick because we always had another plan. If you have young children in daycare or school, I would suggest make a plan in case your child is sick. Find multiple back-ups that you can call if Plan A or even Plan B is a no-go. Pleeeeaaaase just don't send them to school!
Please don't medicate your kids before school to have them make it through the day. They always come right up to us and say, "Mommy gave me medicine before school today". 😂
Dirt Does a Body Good
I vividly remember playing outside as a child and one of the little boys on the playground confidently saying, "God made dirt, so dirt don't hurt" before tasting a bit of earth. I have a feeling that wasn't his first time sampling some soil, and although there may be better ways to benefit from being "one with the Earth", it certainly didn't hurt him.
Some of our healthiest kids are the hardest players. They roll in the dirt, dig in the dirt, constantly have dirt smeared across their faces, and love getting their hands dirty. They run hard and play hard. Their parents have exposed them to outdoor free-play from a young age. Instead of instilling caution of the outdoors and all the things that come with it (not just dirt, but bugs and leaves and trees), they encouraged their children to appreciate and fully experience all the wonders of nature. In fact, there is research indicating that children who grow up on farms have stronger immune systems than those who grow up in cities just because of the microbes to which they are exposed (read more from NPR). We are dirt-lovers at our school and do not discourage adventurous play. If you're scared of dirt, you may not want to send your kids to The Savvy Apple! :D
I am a true believer that an environment that is too sterile may not be as beneficial to children as we may think. I believe that our bodies do need to be exposed to some germs; in fact, some germs are good and are an important part of our bodies' microbiome. I never use hand sanitizer, and I don't have my kids use it either (please don't put my in the "Bad Moms Club"). We wash our hands, and I think that's good enough. Something about hand-sanitizer and its ultra germ-killing abilities weirds me out. Do we really want to wipe out the good microbes with the bad? While I think hand sanitizer certainly has its place in hospitals or in a pinch when you can't wash your hands with soap and warm water, I think it's pretty unnecessary in daily life. While I'm not an expert on this, there are some experts that agree (read more here). I'm knocking on wood while I'm typing this, but it's worked for us so far; my kids and I are rarely sick.
The Great Outdoors
Cold and flu season is typically in the fall and winter. People do not catch these just because it's cold outside but because we tend to be indoors and in close quarters more often, therefore making it easier and more likely to spread germs to each other.
We go outside in just about any weather: hot, cold, misty, sometimes even in light rain! During the winter months, we warn our parents that we will still go outside daily, so children should wear appropriate outerwear. Not only is it beneficial to not be cooped up in close quarters, but I believe fresh air and sunlight does great things for the body.
An Apple a Day...
I have noticed that our healthiest kids are also the best eaters. They have a well-rounded diet and will eat just about anything. I'm not talking about the kids who strictly eat sugar-free items or completely organic. Although I am a fan of organic foods and having sugar in moderation or very seldom, the kids I'm talking about probably go to McDonalds every once in a while and eat candy or donuts a couple times a week. They might even have Fruit Loops for breakfast. At school, though, I have noticed that they eat an abundance of different foods. They never put up a fight about broccoli or squash and zucchini. The very opposite is true; they ask for more vegetables and eat seconds of everything.
I think diet is incredibly important to overall health. When my diet is on point, and I'm eating mostly healthy things, my body and health responds in a positive way. This should be a no-brainer, but we continuously feed our children frozen foods and junk with the excuse that it's all they will eat. After several years of being accustomed to this type of diet, it might be all they want to eat. Too often, children are not exposed to a variety of foods and, most importantly, do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. More and more children are overweight and their health is suffering. This is why we've made such a huge commitment at The Savvy Apple to serve high quality, delicious food to all of our kids. We want to teach them that healthy food can and should taste great. We know parents are busy, but Monday through Friday, they can be assured that their children will receive healthy, yummy, homemade snacks and lunches.
If you have a baby or young child, expose them now to vegetables. Don't be afraid to season their foods. Encourage adventurous eating and model that as well. I think your child's body as a whole will thank you for it!
And a Couple Other Things
There are a few other things that we do in our house to help keep us healthy, and I know several families at The Savvy Apple do too.
We take probiotics. There is more and more research being published supporting the idea that gut health is linked to not only immune function but so many other important body functions! I truly notice a difference in my energy and health when I forget to take my probiotics. I recently have had my kids start taking them and so far, so good! If you're interested in reading some research, here's an article for you. If you're looking for some good probiotics, I know a girl and can hook you up. 😉
We use essential oils at our house, too. Tons of our families use them as well. There is an oil that can help with just about anything. While I don't believe this can take the place of every medical intervention, I do think it can replace some. With a society that is probably over-exposed to antibiotics and medication, this is a great natural alternative. There is a certain oil blend that can be used daily to help prevent illnesses, and there are oils to assist in alleviating some symptoms if you've already caught something. I know a girl who can help you with all things oils, too!
Be proactive about your child's health by doing some simple things, not just during cold and flu season, but as a way of life. Children, of course, are just going to get sick sometimes. In those cases, please help other parents keep their children healthy by keeping your child home to recover. As we make our way through the cold and flu season, I wish you well and may the odds be ever in your favor. 😉