While it’s not possible to shield your kids completely from catching a cold and flu especially if they attend daycare or school, you can teach them healthy habits to boost their immune systems and decrease their chances of picking up an infection. Follow these tips for how to get your kids into healthy habits to prevent colds and flu (and protect others when they themselves are sick):
1. Get them into the hand washing habit. Almost 22 million school days are missed due to the common cold alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies have shown that hand washing can reduce absenteeism from infectious illness among school-aged kids.
Hand washing is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of common schoolkid illnesses such as cold, flu, pinkeye, and more. Since children spend so much time together in close quarters during the school year, it’s a good idea to make sure hand washing becomes something they do automatically, as a matter of habit. Teach your child to wash his hands often, especially before eating, after blowing his nose, and after using the bathroom.
2. Teach them how to wash their hands properly. Getting your child to go to the sink won’t matter if she merely splashes her hands in the water for a second and calls it done. She should wash properly for at least 30 seconds with soap and water. Simple soap will do -- you don’t need antibacterial products (in fact, studies have shown that antibacterial soaps are not any more effective at killing germs than regular soap, and health experts have expressed concern that increasing use of antibacterial products may in fact be giving rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria).
3. Show them how to cough and sneeze properly. Cold and flu viruses can become airbone on droplets of saliva when someone sneezes or coughs. Teach your child to cover a sneeze or a cough with a tissue or with the inside of her elbow. A recent study showed that most people cover their sneezes, but do so with their hands (a bad habit that can spread illness to others).
4. Tell them to avoid touching their eyes. If your child touches something that someone with a cold has touched and then touches his eyes or mouth, the cold virus can enter his body through those points. Infections such as conjunctivitis can also be transmitted through touching eyes after touching an object that has been handled by someone with that infection.
5. Encourage them not to share utensils and cups with friends. Kids naturally love to share (well, sometimes…especially when it’s not a favorite toy), but it’s not a good idea to share eating utensils with friends, especially during cold and flu season. But viruses and bacteria are easily transmitted through saliva, so this is one type of sharing that you should teach your child to avoid.