Even before COVID, school year illness was expected, all those bodies backed together during the flu season = more sick days. No one can keep themselves or their kids from getting the sniffles occasionally, but a more robust immune system can help kids get sick less often.
The immune system is made up of cells, proteins, and organs that perform a variety of functions that fight off illness and heal the body when it comes under attack. Healthy lifestyle choices that support nutrition, a good night’s sleep, and stress reduction can help to keep your child’s immune system strong. Here are some simple steps you can take to keep your kids healthy:
1. Encourage Healthy Food Choices
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is essential for good nutrition. These foods contain essential vitamins and minerals, as well as compounds that fight inflammation. Parental food choices have a huge impact on growing children. If your kids see you eating something, they will be more likely to try it. Many children refuse foods the first time they try them, but it’s important to expose your child to a food more than once. It takes little taste-buds a few tries before they adjust to new foods.
Packing healthy lunches for your child and providing nutritious after school snacks are easy ways to fit fruits and veggies in throughout your child’s day. If you have a picky eater at home, try letting them choose between a few healthy options- that way, no matter what they want to eat, it will be good for them.
Kids love sugar, but sugar can wreak havoc on the immune system. Several studies have shown that the body’s ability to fight off germs is reduced after eating high sugar foods. Candy isn’t the only culprit. Refined carbohydrates like white bread are processed as sugar in the body. Whole grain products are sometimes a tough sell to kids, but they will learn to like them if you start them early. Diets rich in whole grains are good for the immune system and are also shown to reduce obesity and diabetes risk, compared with diets high in refined carbohydrates.
Some children go through stages where it’s nearly impossible to get them to eat anything healthy. It’s best to speak with your child’s pediatrician in these situations and see if they recommend a nutrition shake or other supplement to make sure your child does not become malnourished. Don’t give up hope if you have a picky eater! Most kids learn to like a variety of foods if they continue to be offered to them.
By teaching your children to make healthy eating choices and providing them with nutritious food that is low in sugar, you can improve your child’s ability to prevent illness.
2. Prioritize Bed Time
Kids, like adults, need sufficient sleep to be at their best. Sleep impacts many parts of human functioning, including the immune system and your child’s ability to learn. Sleep-deprived kids may be at a higher risk for illness than children who get enough sleep. For most adults, 7-9 hours of sleep is appropriate, but the amount of sleep children need varies by age.
Children ages 3-5 need 10 to 13 hours of sleep. A day time nap can help them get some of this, but their sleep at night should account for 9-10 of their sleeping hours. Children ages 6 to 13 need 9-11 hours of sleep. Since most children in this age group don’t take naps, this sleep needs to happen at night. Teenagers aged 14+ need 8-10 hours of sleep to support their developing brains and bodies. Children of all ages need a set bedtime and a structured bedtime ritual. This will help them develop good sleep hygiene habits and be able to put themselves to sleep. A bedtime ritual should include at least 30 minutes of quiet, electronics-free time before bed. It should also include time spent brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, etc. For younger children, it could include a story-time.
Children who consistently have trouble sleeping even with an established bedtime routine may need to be evaluated by a doctor for sleep disorders. Consult with your pediatrician before using over-the-counter sleep aids. Most children will get the sleep they need with an early bedtime and a structured bedtime ritual.
3. Practice Stress Reduction
Childhood can be stressful, and kids need to learn how to cope with stress in healthy ways. Stress takes a toll on the immune system and can interfere with sleep and digestion. Parents can practice stress reduction with their children by encouraging them to be physically active and showing them how to take deep, slow breaths when they feel stressed or overwhelmed. “Rainbow breathing” is an easy technique to do with young children. Have your child stand and slowly extend their arms from their sides overhead while taking a slow breath in and then exhale while slowly bringing their arms back to their sides (their arms should make a “rainbow” shape as they do this.)
Healthy coping skills will not only boost your child’s immune system but their mental health as well.
4. Consider Chiropractic Care
Chiropractic adjustment isn’t just for adults; kids benefit too. Studies have shown that children who regularly receive chiropractic care are generally healthier and get sick less often than kids who don’t. Kids grow quickly, and chiropractic adjustments can help their growing spines stay in alignment. This is especially important for children carrying a backpack around all day or who haven’t learned to have good posture while sitting in school. Chiropractic adjustment is a safe, gentle solution for keeping kids healthy and active.