How to stay healthy as your child goes back to school
Back-to-school means the end of summer, new friends… and exposure to cold and flu germs. Keeping you and your child healthy can be challenging this time of year, but you can reduce the risk by taking a few proactive steps to keep viruses and germs at bay. “Germs are everywhere,” says Michael Schmidt, PhD, a microbiologist at the Medical University of South Carolina. “They’re not out there to ‘get’ you, but are simply trying to exist, just like us. Unfortunately, when humans get in the way, we can become ill.”
When you’re suddenly spending all day with 20 other kids, there’s always a risk of contracting an illness or virus from one of the other kids, says Danelle, Fisher, MD, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. “They can spread germs through the air by coughing and sneezing.” Taking the following steps can ensure that you and your family stay as safe as possible this cold and flu season:
1. Get enough sleep
Since many kids stay up late during the summer, make sure children get the right amount of sleep once school starts, says Fisher. “Sleep boosts the immune system and allows the body to refresh and regenerate at a cellular level.” Fisher recommends parents begin resetting a child’s bedtime at least a week or so before school starts by getting them to bed 15 minutes earlier every night until they’re getting the sleep they need. Children ages 5 to 12 should get 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night, and teens need between 9 to 10 hours of sleep, says Fisher. “Although some kids will need less than others.”
2. Wash hands frequently
Use soap and water whenever you can, and teach your children to do the same, says Fisher. “It’s especially important before eating, after returning home from school, and after using the restroom.” Alcohol-based hand sanitizers make a good secondary tactic when no soap and water are available.
3. Practice healthy eating habits
Healthy eating helps to keep your immune system functioning at its highest level, says Fisher. “Make sure your child gets plenty of liquid – water and milk – and limit soda and juice as well as junk food. If they don’t like plain water add a splash of 100% juice for flavor.”
4. Toss clothes in the wash
When kids get home from school, have them leave their shoes at the door to avoid dragging in germs, says Kristine Arthur, MD, an internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif. “Then have them change clothes, especially if they’ve been sitting on the floor, and toss the clothes into the wash. This helps prevent germs from getting into the house and spreading.”
5. Keep lunches safe
Eliminate finger foods as much as possible, says Arthur. “Or take care to pack lunches with wash and wipes and make sure kids use them before they eat.” In addition, ask them not to share their lunches with other kids. Once home, wipe down lunch boxes and backpacks with antibacterial wipes and avoid putting them on kitchen countertops, which can transfer germs and bacteria.
The key lies in staying as healthy as possible, says Arthur. “Stay up to date on vaccinations for both yourself and your child.” Immunity to whooping cough wears off in your 50s and 60s, says Arthur, and requires a booster shot. A simple blood test can check if you’re still immune or if you require a booster. Follow the vaccination schedule prescribed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lastly, if your child has a fever, rash or cough, keep them home, says Arthur. “This limits the spread of illness to other kids.”