Every fall, millions of kids head back to school to start a new year. This means homework, sports, activities, and, unfortunately, germs and illness.
School-going kids of all ages are a perfect recipe for spreading colds, flu, stomach viruses, and more. They typically don’t wash their hands as well (or as often) as they should, they put their hands in their mouths or on their faces, they touch numerous shared surfaces, and they’re in close contact with dozens of other kids. It’s no wonder that schools are one of the top places for spreading infectious illnesses.
But you don’t have to sit back and wait for the germs to strike your household. Although you can’t (and shouldn’t) prevent every germ that comes your way, you can teach your kids some healthy habits and do a few things at home to keep the illnesses to a minimum.
- Reinforce hand washing. Hand washing is the number one way to prevent the spread of illnesses. Even if you think your kids know how and when to wash hands, they often skimp on hand washing at school when they’re busy and distracted. Tell them to use soap and water and sing “happy birthday” twice — or count to 20. They should do this after using the bathroom and before eating, at a minimum. If they absolutely can’t get to a sink, encourage them to use hand sanitizer. Many classrooms have a pump of it available, but if not, get a small bottle that your child can keep handy.
- Keep them hydrated with their own water bottle if possible. Drinking fountains are one of the germiest places in schools because they don’t always get cleaned regularly. If it’s allowed, send your kid with a labeled water bottle each day. Hydration helps keep all their body systems healthy, including their immune systems.
- Vaccinate. A variety of vaccinations are required for school entry. In addition to these, consider getting your child (and the whole family!) the flu vaccine each fall.
- Don’t send them to school sick. Although there’s pressure on older students in particular to have perfect attendance, your child will recover more quickly with some rest; not to mention, you’ll help prevent the spreading of the illness to others at school. A day or two of missed school for a legitimate illness should not set them back academically.
Although no parent wants to see their child sick, it’s important to remember that some illnesses are going to happen — and in healthy kids, this is an important step in building immunity. Although it’s good to teach your child healthy habits, try not to make them afraid or paranoid about catching germs. Just focus on what they can do to stay healthy, and try not to overreact if your child touches a germy surface or puts his hands in his mouth. Gentle reminders about hygiene, as well as a focus on a healthy lifestyle, are the best ways to help your child take care of himself.
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