Did you know that elementary-aged children get, on average, eight to twelve cases of the flu each school year? Germs are out of our control, especially in places like day cares, classrooms, and cafeterias. However, you do have control over the health of your child’s immune system. Here are some important practices to instill in your child so that they can better resist illnesses like the cold and flu this year.
1. Make sure your children get the recommended amount of sleep for their age.
Children need different amounts of sleep depending on their age to ensure healthy development and a healthy immune system. Research shows that preschoolers (ages 3-5) should be receiving 11-13 hours each night, school-aged children (ages 6-13) should be getting 9-11 hours, and teens should be getting 8-10 hours.
It’s proven that sleeping benefits your heart, weight, and mind. Getting the proper amount also boosts your immune system, which is why it’s so important in the prevention of illnesses that are prevalent with back-to-school time.
Clearly, you should not give your children a sugar or caffeine before bed. These are chemicals that are proven to make it very difficult to get a full-night’s sleep. You should also limit their screen-time on devices that produce “blue light” (TV, Tablet, Computer or Phone). Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin (the natural chemical in your body that makes you sleepy) more than any other light. To prevent sleeping problems, your child should avoid exposure to this blue light 30 – 60 minutes before bed.
2. Encourage your children to eat healthily.
Eating healthy may not always sound enticing to kids, especially in a cafeteria setting. Often, the child that gets the apple and carrots is envious of the kid who has pudding and crackers in his lunch box. It’s okay for your child to have a fun snack here and there as long as you make sure that they are at eating foods that provide the necessary vitamins to support their immune system.
The most important vitamins to build a strong immune system are:
- Vitamin E – Assures that cells in your immune system function at their best, and is very important in fighting off colds. You can find vitamin E in vegetable oils, broccoli, almonds, and peanut butter.
- Vitamin C – An important antioxidant and immune-boosting nutrient. This vitamin helps your body destroy invasive pathogens. You can find vitamin C in cantaloupe, kiwi, orange juice, and bell peppers.
- Vitamin D – Supports innate immunity (strengthens barriers like skins, mucus, and enzymes in tears) and adaptive immunity (allows your body to adapt and build defenses to viruses, like chicken pox). You can find vitamin D in juices, milk, and yogurt.
- Carotenoids – Enhance production of helpful proteins that regulate immunity, and helps your body create cells that kill bacteria. You can find carotenoids in spinach, grapefruit, and carrots.
3. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Teach your children to wash their hands.
Feces and mucus are the most common transportation methods for germs. It may be disgusting to think about, but invisible traces of feces are the cause of many transferable diseases, and it doesn’t take much to get infected. You may not realize it, but people tend to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth a lot. This is the most common way that we introduce infectious germs to our body.
If everyone washed their hands properly, we would see a massive decrease in the amount of illnesses spread. According to the CDC, proper handwashing would decrease the amount of diarrhea cases by 31% and would reduce the amount of respiratory illnesses (like colds) by 16-21%.
Washing your hands sounds like such a simple solution, however there are many people who just don’t do it. A study of handwashing was recently conducted with 100,000 adults, and it was found that 60% of men and 40% of women didn’t wash their hands after using the restroom. Why don’t they? Maybe they were in a rush, or didn’t think their hands were dirty, so they didn’t need to wash them. Let’s stop the spread of germs by teaching children that it’s a necessity at school.