Whether it’s the first year or the final year, back-to-school preparations are exciting. At the end of each summer, families across the country fall back into their school year routines. Suddenly there are lunches to pack, buses to catch, and new extracurriculars to join. Friends reunite to share their summer stories, and often—unfortunately—their summer germs.
Teachers and parents know the back-to-school bug starts with a sniffle and ends in coughing, sneezing, and general misery. According to KidsHealth.org, most children have eight or more colds per year. They’re the top reason kids miss school or see the doctor.
Unfortunately, schools are the perfect environment for illnesses to spread. Standard classrooms have 20-30 students who spend hours in a small space together. Plus, kids don’t have fully developed immune systems. This makes them more susceptible to both airborne and contact viruses. And—as anyone who has watched their child lick a doorknob can attest—most kids just don’t understand hygiene. They’re the top perpetrators of germy habits like sticking fingers and things in their mouths.
So how do you keep your kid from bringing home the bug? Prevention and education.
A healthy immune system starts at home
The new school year comes with a lot of stress and disruption. A nutritious diet, staying active, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule all support kids’ immune systems. Feed kids fresh fruits and vegetables, which are high in Vitamin C and other immune-boosting nutrients. Hydration is also essential. Drinking plenty of water helps flush germs and support overall wellness.
But one of the most important preventative measures is enforcing a healthy sleep schedule. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that school-aged children get 9-11 hours of sleep. Staying up late cramming for exams or stressing over homework lowers the body’s natural virus-fighting mechanisms, which makes kids more susceptible to common illnesses.
Teach proper hand hygiene
Cold viruses live in our body’s secretions (saliva, mucus, even feces) and spread through contact. Sneezing and coughing launch virus-infected droplets into the air. Runny noses are a hazard to shared desks, toys, and playground equipment. Luckily, teaching kids when and how to wash their hands can slow the spread of germs and prevent back-to-school colds.
The University of Rochester’s Medical Center says kids should wash their hands before eating and after using the restroom, playing with pets, being on playground equipment, being close to a sick person, or touching garbage. Teach kids to lather their hands with soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds. That’s about the time it takes to sing the alphabet song once, slowly. Then they can rinse with running warm water, and dry their hands on a clean towel.
Reduce stress wherever you can
Stress is a natural part of our lives. In fact, fight-or-flight instincts kept our ancestors (and their ancestors) alive for millennia. But in a busy modern world, we’re more prone to chronic stress, which can impact our immune systems.
Often, stress is fear of the unknown. Your kids might be worried about a new school, new classmates, or just a new routine and expectations. Predicting these common stressors and heading them off—going on a tour of the new school before classes start, for example—can help mitigate the stress response.
You can’t prevent every stress in your child’s life. But you can teach kids healthy stress management. Make sure your child has a set routine for their homework, so they’re not scrambling at the last minute. Take time each week to unplug and unwind with guided yoga and meditation.
Keep sick kids home
Sometimes, even the best preventative measures fall short. If you suspect your child has a cold, or they aren’t feeling well, it’s better to keep them home than to risk spreading the illness. Over 200 viruses can cause the common cold, and they all need rest and recuperation. Luckily, with Lumeca you can consult with our online doctors without ever leaving the comfort of your home. Less time in waiting rooms means less time spreading germs and more time healing.
With a little preparation and education, you can prevent back-to-school colds and keep your kids healthy this school year. What steps do you take to head off the dreaded back-to-school bugs?