Caring For Our Kids

Keeping your family healthy

photo: annie / flickr

With all the wonderful “summer” weather we have had recently, it is hard to imagine that flu season is upon us. Getting sick or having sick kids is definitely no fun — everyone is cranky, no one is sleeping or eating well, and we are just generally not ourselves. There is no surefire way to avoid getting sick, but there are definitely some things you and your family can do to help fight off colds and the flu. Here are a few simple ways to limit those sick days:


This is probably the number one thing we can do to prevent getting sick. Even our littlest ones can learn early to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow. This does not eliminate germs, but it keeps them away from hands that touch everything. It is important to talk to our children about germs, the importance of good hygiene, and to make sure these messages are being reinforced at their schools or day care centers. My daughter recently came home from school 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 the simple things she can do to keep from getting sick.


Washing your hands is another important prevention. This means enforcing washing with soap for at least 20 seconds, which is long enough to sing the “ABC” song or “Happy Birthday” twice. If there is no soap available, the next best thing is to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These days you can find them in all different sizes, so I always buy a few extra to have available just about everywhere — the car, the stroller, my purse, and backpacks.


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 under the age of 5. 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 flu. The vaccine can be given two different ways: either as a shot for any child 6 months and older, and my new favorite, the nasal spray FluMist, which can be given to children two years and older. This is a quick and painless vaccination method, especially for children (or adults) who fear shots.


One of the best ways to keep our immune systems in tiptop 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 get, but it also can reduce the severity of the symptoms. Other ways to keep our immune system in good shape is to make sure that along with exercise our families are eating well and getting enough sleep.

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, maybe we can outsmart those germs and stay as healthy as possible this cold and flu season.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.