While many of us anticipate getting sick in the winter, coming down with a cold or a virus in balmy spring months can come as a shock. It can be especially distressing when our kids are the ones getting sick.
First, know that all seasonal changes come with an increased risk of illness, and spring brings some additional ones into the mix. Seasonal allergies may weaken children’s immune systems, making them more prone to getting a cold. Temperature shifts, barometric pressure shifts, and especially cold air conditioning can all take their toll on natural defenses, too.
Thankfully, there are plenty of steps parents can take to ensure that their children stay healthy this spring–even with the odds stacked against them.
1. Teach Kids To Wash Their Hands
Frequent and thorough handwashing is a must. In fact, regular handwashing reduces the likelihood of sickness and infection in young children–ages five and under–by 50%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Encourage children of all ages to wash their hands, and help young kids establish healthy handwashing habits. There are all kinds of ways to do this.
- Sing a song. Tell children to sing Happy Birthday one to two times while handwashing. Challenge them to make up a song of their own! Either way, the goal is to prolong handwashing and ensure children wash their hands for an absolute minimum of 20 seconds.
- Reframe it. Reframe handwashing as an opportunity to play with bubbles. In The Huffington Post, one mom suggests purchasing blue or green hand soaps and referring to the liquid soap as “alien slime” to pique young children’s interest.
- Make it into a game. Use your imagination. Another mom suggests using a glitter spray on kids’ hands first. That way, they will wash their hands well enough to remove the glitter. Another option is filling the sink up with soap and water and letting kids splash their hands around to get them clean.
- Talk to your kids. For some, the preferred method is simply being upfront with their children. Tell your kids about germs. Talk to your kids about washing their hands so they don’t get sick.
This is especially important for kids enrolled in preschool–a full three-fourths of the nation’s young children. With germs living on hard surfaces for several hours and kids–and people of all ages–coming down with colds three days after being exposed to cold germs, precautionary measures are necessary.
2. Don’t Leave The House Without Water and Sunscreen
Did you know that sunburns can literally weaken your immune system? It is possible that, of the 1 billion Americans who get colds every year, some may have begun with a sunburn.
Apply sunscreen before leaving the house to go outdoors, and pack some for reapplying, too. Children need sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or more and don’t forget to reapply every two hours spent in the sun. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends putting it on “immediately after swimming or excessive sweating” as well.
If possible, protect kids’ scalp and ears with a hat. Parents need to be especially mindful of babies’ and toddlers’ sun exposure. Lightweight, breathable clothing with long sleeves is your child’s best defense against the sun. A hat and sunglasses protect the top of babies’ heads and babies’ developing eyes.
Don’t forget these steps! According to Genesis Medical, “By the age of 18, most kids will soak up anywhere from 50-80% of the recommended amount of lifetime sun exposure.”
Similarly, hydration during spring and summer months is very important–especially if your children will be spending large amounts of time in the sun. Take water wherever you go, and note whether public spaces like parks and beaches have water fountains to refill them. According to WebMD, your child may be at risk for dehydration in the event of “prolonged exposure to high temperatures, direct sun, and high humidity, without sufficient rest and fluids.” Watch for early signs of dehydration including cracked lips, dry mouth, and fatigue. Children have a greater surface area to body weight ratio, making them much more susceptible to dehydration, heat-stroke, and heat-related illness.
3. Prep Snacks Ahead And Encourage Year-Round, Active Play
Half of all colds — 50% — occur during fall and spring months. One of the most effective ways to prevent the common cold in children–and in adults!–is to maintain healthy habits year-round. That means eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and getting plenty of exercise.
What constitutes a healthy diet for children? Dietitians promote putting together a colorful plate. A plate full of leafy greens, deep purples and reds, and bright orange and yellows is a simple tool to eat healthily. Choose squash and citrus for orange/yellow, potatoes, pomegranates, and berries for purple and red, and spinach, kale, and string beans for green. Healthy food choices are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and boost children’s immune systems.
To keep kids eating healthy, put together nutritious snacks ahead of time. Have Tupperware containers of veggies and fruits ready to go–whether you are at home or going to the park. Put together cute food art using produce. Search online for ideas, like vegetable penguins and butterfly and fish shapes made out of fruit.
Similarly, frequent exercise also acts as a defensive measure and helps prevent your child from getting ill. Encourage your child to find an activity he or she enjoys and to do it often! Some springtime ideas include riding bikes, jumping rope, scavenger hunts, and water balloon contests. Enroll children in organized sports or exercise as a family.
Without intervention, chances are your child will get sick this spring. Be proactive. Take steps to make certain your child stays happy, healthy, and cold-free.
Of course, you want the best for your child. Studies show that parents of sick children are dramatically more likely to get sick too! Being tired, sick, and caring for a sick child only makes the problem stick around longer. Take action to keep your kid cold-free, and wash your hands, disinfect toys, and scrub surfaces in your home prevent family-wide illness.