Because I am a pediatrician, parents often ask me how to keep their children healthy during the school year. There are some simple but effective things you and your child can do to reduce their risk of infection. However, keep in mind that no matter how diligent one may be with personal hygiene, it’s inevitable that your child will be exposed to germs, and it’s likely he or she will come down with a cold or other illness this school year.
Viruses are a very common cause of illness during the school year as they are spread very easily throughout a classroom. Imagine a child sneezing, wiping his nose with his hand, and then resuming his activity. Not only were the respiratory droplets from the sneeze dispersed throughout the room for others to inhale, but germs may also be distributed from direct contact with whatever object the child’s hand then touched. Imagine another scenario with a young child forgetting to wash his or her hands after using the bathroom. These germs can easily be spread throughout the classroom and introduced into your child’s body. That is why it is important to follow the tips below to help keep your child healthier.
Hand washing. Whether it’s with soap and water or with hand sanitizer, this is the most effective way to control germs and boost your children’s chance of staying healthy. Remind your children to wash their hands often. Emphasize the importance of doing this prior to eating and anytime they come in contact with bodily fluids through sneezing, coughing, or going to the bathroom, etc. Also encourage your children to wash their hands after using shared objects like water fountains, computers, and playground equipment that many other children may have touched.
Teach your children to wash with lather for at least 20 seconds. To hit this target, the CDC and experts recommend singing “Happy Birthday” from beginning to end two times before rinsing and drying your hands. In order to help your children be successful with washing their hands, it may be helpful to send them to school with their own personal-sized bottles of hand sanitizer. Check the bottles occasionally to ensure they are being used and replace them when they run low.
Control the spread of germs. By teaching your children to reduce the spread of germs, you will help keep their classrooms healthier and, by extension, keep your own children healthier. Remind your children to cover sneezes and coughs. It may be helpful to send in packages of tissues to keep at their desk. Tell your children that if they can’t reach a tissue quickly, they should sneeze or cough into their elbows to help avoid spreading germs. Remind your children to dispose of tissues in the trashcan promptly after use rather than holding on to them for another use or storing them on their desk until they are going to happen by a trashcan.
Encourage your children to avoid sharing drinks or food. Reaching into a friend’s snacksize package of goldfish at lunch may seem harmless to your child, but you can’t ensure how many hands have been in there touching the food that is about to go in your child’s mouth.
Healthy Lifestyle. Remember that your children need good nutrition and adequate sleep to help their bodies function well. Don’t let your children head to the bus stop without a good breakfast. Be sure to include a source of protein to help them have energy that lasts until lunch. Encourage a well-rounded diet at all meals. At bedtime, be consistent with a routine to encourage your child to easily fall asleep. The average elementary school-age child should get 10-11 hours of sleep per night.
Be sure to stay up-to-date with vaccines. Although many childhood vaccines are required by schools and chances are your child has had them, there are other vaccines that are optional but effective. Be sure to openly communicate with your pediatrician to find out what vaccines, if any, she currently recommends for your child. Some vaccines you may have opted to get when your child was a toddler, thus avoiding the need for a booster, while others, like the flu vaccine, need to be administered yearly in order to have protection.
Don’t be afraid to postpone playdates or sleepovers because your child is unwell. Explain to your child that she and her friend will have much more fun staying up late watching movies when they are both feeling well.
The above everyday actions can help keep your child healthy this school year. While these are simple steps, it’s important to remain consistent over time. If you have concerns about your child’s health this school year, be sure to discuss these with your healthcare provider to ensure an appropriate and quick return to the academic setting.
– Dr. Bovee