Get Your Flu Shots
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The whole family needs ’em, parents too. “Many respiratory viruses circulate all winter, but the flu is the most serious and can cause the most complications,” says Peter N. Wenger, MD, chairperson of the New Jersey Immunization Network and pediatric infectious disease specialist at St. Peters University Hospital in New Brunswick.
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Make them wash their hands with plenty of soap and water. "Teach them to scrub the top and bottom of hands and between fingers, and wash as long as it takes them to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice," says Jeffrey M. Bienstock, MD, president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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“When it gets cold, we tend to stay indoors, which may lead to too much screen time,” says Dr. Wenger. No matter what your grandma told you, the cold itself doesn’t make you sick; bacteria and viruses do. So, bundle up and get outside with your kid for a walk, sledding or a visit to the park.
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Keep hand sanitizer within reach. It’s better than nothing when you’re on the go, says Dr. Bienstock.
Eat a Rainbow
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A plate with lots of bright and colorful veggies like green beans, beets, carrots, red peppers, kale and sweet potatoes is packed with the vitamins and antioxidants your kids need for a healthy immune system year-round, says Dr. Bienstock.
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If he ends up on antibiotics (which kill good and bad bacteria), try adding yogurt, kefir or sauerkraut to his diet. “Research is not yet solid to say probiotics boost overall immunity, but they do provide some protection against diarrhea, which is often associated with antibiotics,” says Dr. Bienstock.
Stop the Sniffles
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“Certain viruses, such as the flu, transmit better in times of low humidity,” says Dr. Wenger. While there’s no hard and fast rule, squirting a little saline spray or gel up your child’s nose can keep sinuses more comfortable and less likely to crack. Pediatricians have different opinions about whether or not humidifiers help, but there’s no harm in using them in the bedroom overnight as long as you clean them daily.
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If your child is getting over a case of strep, toss his toothbrush and get a new one so he doesn’t reinfect himself, says Dr. Bienstock. And if one sibling is sick, keep her toothbrush away from the other kids’ toothbrushes so she doesn’t spread germs.
Wipe Away Germs
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Clean household surfaces like doorknobs, light switches and refrigerator handles with a disinfectant to prevent the spread of germs, which can live for hours or even days. And read the product label; some “green” cleaners don’t kill disease-causing germs.
Cough It Up
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Resist the urge to grab a one-size-fits-all cold medicine. “With these multisymptom medications, you don’t know how much you’re getting of a certain ingredient, and you may be treating for symptoms your child doesn’t have,” says Dr. Wenger. Instead, call your pediatrician if your child has a specific symptom that’s especially troubling.
Degunk Their Bottle
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Researchers at the University of Calgary found the bacterial quality in water bottles of elementary school students exceeded the standards allowed in drinking water. Gross! What to do? Wash their bottles with soap and hot water daily and let them air-dry overnight, says Dr. Bienstock. Do this whether or not your child is sick.
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Don’t skimp on shut-eye. “Lack of sleep doubles the chances of getting sick,” says Dr. Bienstock. Your kids probably need more sleep than you think: Preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours per day (including naps), while grade-schoolers require 9 to 12 hours. Get yourself to bed at a reasonable hour, too.
Arricca Elin SanSone is a New York-based health and lifestyle writer.