Caring For Our Kids
Keep Your Family Healthy

November 2011

Keeping hands clean can help fend off colds and flu (Photo: ARA Content)
It is November and that can only mean that flu season is upon us. The weather this time of year can easily fluctuate between 10 and 20 degrees in a given week, so it is no wonder that it seems impossible to stay healthy. Getting sick or having sick kids is definitely no fun – everyone gets cranky, no one is sleeping or eating well, and we are just generally not ourselves. There is no surefire way to keep from getting sick, but there are definitely some things you and your children can do to help fight off colds and the flu. Here are a few simple ways to limit those dreaded sick days.

Cover your mouth and keep hands clean. This is probably the number one thing we can do to prevent getting sick. Even our littlest ones can learn early on to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow. This does not eliminate germs but it keeps them away from the hands that touch everything. It is important to talk to our children about germs and the importance of good hygiene. And make sure these messages are being reinforced at their schools or daycare centers. My daughter recently came home from kindergarten and told me she saw a movie about germs. She was excited to tell me more than I ever wanted to know about them, but it did help her understand how simple things she can do will keep her from getting sick.

The other important element to this is keeping our hands clean. This means enforcing washing with soap for at least 20 seconds – long enough to sing the “ABC” or “Happy Birthday” song twice. If there is no soap available, the next best thing is to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You can find them in all different sizes these days, so I always buy a few extra to have available just about everywhere – the car, the stroller, my purse, or anywhere else they may be useful.

Get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine for all children over 6 months old. They also recommend flu vaccines for parents, grandparents and caregivers, or for anyone who is in close contact with children younger than 5 years old. The best time to get a flu shot is actually before the flu season starts so your immune system has enough time to produce the antibodies needed to protect against the diseasee. The vaccine can be given two different ways: either as a shot for any child six months and older, or my new favorite, the nasal spray (FluMist), which can be given to children 2 years and older. This is a quick and painless way to get vaccinated, especially for children who have a fear of shots.

Stay active. One way to keep our immune systems in the best possible shape is to make sure we take care of our bodies before we get sick. Research shows that exercise helps your immune system fight simple infections like colds and flu. Most children exercise without even knowing it when they kick a soccer ball, ride a bike, or skip down the street. The research also shows that not only does exercise reduce the number of colds you catch, it also can reduce the severity of the symptoms. Other ways to keep our immune system in good shape are to make sure that along with exercise we are eating well and getting enough sleep.

With all this being said, if you or your children do come down with the inevitable cold, the best thing to do is stay home and rest – there is no need to spread your germs to others. Your co-workers, classmates and friends will all thank you for it. I am not a doctor, but in our house what seems to work best is chicken noodle soup, plenty of liquids, and lots of rest. With these simple tips, let’s hope we can outsmart those germs and stay as healthy as possible this cold and flu season.

Liz Farrell is the mother of two young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]