Parents are often frustrated by how often their children are sick, especially if they are in school or day care.
Keep in mind, though, that it can be normal for young children to have six to eight upper respiratory tract infections (with cough and runny nose) and two or three gastrointestinal infections (with vomiting and diarrhea) each year. Children in school and day care can have more -- known as "day care syndrome."
As kids gets older, their immune system will usually strengthen and they will build up immunity to many common infections and will get sick less often, but that doesn't help you as your kids keep getting sick month after month.
To help your kids stay healthy year round, even during cold and flu season, it can help to:
- make sure your child's vaccines are up-to-date, including a yearly flu vaccine.
- stay on schedule with well child visits to your pediatrician.
- encourage your kids to wash their hands often, especially before they eat, after they use the bathroom, after handling animals or animal waste, and whenever they seem dirty.
- teach your kids not to share glasses, water bottles, hats, towels, or other items with friends or family members. Since many infections are contagious even before you show symptoms, if you wait until someone is sick to stop drinking from their glass, it will likely be too late to avoid sharing their germs too.
- tell your kids to never swallow the water when swimming, especially in lakes, ponds and public swimming pools.
- have kids cover cuts and scratches, especially if they will be in a group setting, like a school locker room.
- teach your kids to keep their fingers and other items, like pencils or pens, out of their mouths, so that they don't help germs get into their body.
- make sure your kids take any prescribed preventative medications, such as for asthma or allergies, every day.
- teach kids to wash fruits and vegetables before they eat them and follow other food safety practices to prevent food poisoning.
- consider seeing a pediatric immunologist if your child has any signs of an immune system problem, such as two or more episodes of pneumonia in one year, needing IV antibiotics to clear infections, or being on antibiotics for two or more months without any effect, etc.
Most importantly, avoid close contact with other people who are sick. However, since you can't always know when other people are sick, that may mean simply trying to avoid unnecessary contact with a lot of people if you have a newborn, infant, toddler, or preschool age child.
That doesn't have to mean living in a bubble, but if your child is already in daycare, you may not want to also take him to the daycare at the gym or at church and expose him to a whole new set of kids and germs. You might also think twice about taking young kids to the mall, grocery store, and other places where there are a lot of people, or consider going during off-peak hours.
In addition to avoiding germs, following some basic principles of healthy living may help to keep your child's immune system in good shape.
And even if they don't prevent your child from getting a cold or the flu, following these guidelines will help your child to be healthier while he is sick:
- get a good night's sleep, which means about 11 to 12 hours for preschoolers and 10 to 11 hours for school age children.
- encourage kids to eat healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and whole grains, etc., and to not skip any meals.
- be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day, through a combination of age-appropriate exercise and active free play
- if your child is overweight, help him get to a healthy weight through a combination of healthy eating and daily exercise
- don't smoke
- consider giving your child a multivitamin if you think that he doesn't eat well and is missing out on important nutrients, such as iron, vitamin D, and calcium, etc.
- help your kids learn to manage stress