For your kids, going back to school means back to the regular routine, back to learning, and back to friends. But it also means back to a hotbed of germs, and combined with the changing weather, it’s no wonder that colds and flus run rampant in the fall. There’s no failsafe way to prevent your kids from getting sick, but you can give them their best chance of staying healthy with these tips.
1. Make bedtime a priority. In the long daylight hours of summer, with no early morning wakeups looming, it’s easy to let your kids fall into a pattern of staying up late. But once school is back in session, an earlier bedtime makes a big difference in your child’s total sleep. Lack of sleep affects the immune system, making it harder for your kids to fight off infection. School-aged kids need 10-11 hours of sleep every night, so make sure everyone is bed early enough to doze off at least 10 hours before your alarm clocks start buzzing.
2. Feed them veggies. Fruits and vegetables are heathy for a lot of reasons, and one of them is the boost they give to your kids’ immune system. Fresh produce is full of antioxidants and vitamin C, which help your child’s body fight off disease. Make sure your kids are getting all the nutrients they need by giving them different colors of fruits and veggies. And if your kids are picky eaters, try kid-friendly options like fruit smoothies or veggies with dip.
3. Keep your child home when he’s sick. If it’s just a sniffle, sending your kid to school with a cold is no big deal. But if you’re able to keep your child home even when he’s just a little under the weather, the extra rest could help him get over it faster. It will also prevent him from spreading his cold around to all his friends at school, which is healthier for everybody. And, if your child has a fever or diarrhea, or if he’s vomiting, then he must stay home till he’s been symptom-free for at least 24 hours.
4. Make hand washing a habit. Once your child is past kindergarten, her teacher won’t be reminding her to wash her hands after she uses the restroom or before she eats lunch. That means it’s essential that your child take responsibility for remembering to wash her hands throughout the day, so teach it at home till it’s an unforgettable habit. Talk about the importance of washing hands, and make sure your child knows how to wash properly (lathering between fingers and the backs of hands, and scrubbing for 20 seconds — about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”).
5. Stay up-to-date on vaccinations — including yours. You know that keeping your child’s shots up-to-date is one of the best ways to help him stay healthy, but don’t forget to schedule your own shots, too. Your childhood vaccinations wear off over time, so they may be less effective now. And since adults are less susceptible to some illnesses than kids, you could get your kid sick without ever having symptoms yourself. So check your own vaccination history, and talk to your doctor about whether you need any boosters.
6. Schedule an annual checkup. While you’re scheduling a vaccination visit with your pediatrician, go ahead and make time for a full checkup for your child. That will give you a chance to talk with your child’s doctor about any health concerns you might have, and it’s a good way to catch any potential problems before they start. And if your child hasn’t had a vision and hearing screening recently, make sure the doctor does that, too — trouble seeing or hearing can really affect your child’s performance in school, especially in upper elementary when reading and listening to directions are increasingly important.
7. Make free time in your child’s schedule. Scheduling free play might sound like an oxymoron, but in most kids’ busy lives, putting play on the calendar might be the only way to get it. Between after school activities and extracurricular classes, your child might never get a chance to just relax and play during the school year unless you make it a priority. But unstructured, unscheduled outdoor play is important for your child’s health — it’s the best way to prevent obesity, and it’s also essential for developing life skills like self-regulation and motivation. So take a page out of your own childhood, and schedule at least a couple of afternoons a week when you can send your kids outside to play with the neighbors till dinner.
*This post is sponsored by American Family Insurance.