Parents are always trying to find the best ways to keep little ones healthy and germ-free, but what way is the right way? We spoke to a real pediatricians — and parents — to get simple solutions that will keep your kids in tip-top shape.
Wash hands the right way.
“Frequent hand washing with soap and water is the best way to limit the spread of infectious illnesses between household members,” says Jack Maypole, MD, a primary-care pediatrician, member of the Educational Advisory Board for The Goddard School, and director of the Comprehensive Care Program at Boston Medical Center. But a quick rinse under the tap isn’t quite enough. He advises teaching kids to wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” to ensure they get truly clean. Another method to try: “In my family, we say, ‘Front, back, fingertips, fingertips, in between, and all around’ while washing to make sure we cover every part of the hands,” says Katherine O’Connor, MD, a pediatric hospital medicine doctor at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, NY. Hand sanitizer works in a pinch and is better than nothing, but good old-fashioned soap and water is best.
Clean your screens.
Most of us make sure to get the bathroom and kitchen squeaky-clean, but some of the biggest germ hotspots are right at our fingertips-literally! “Anything you touch a lot, including cell phones, iPads, and other handheld devices, should be cleaned regularly,” says Dr. O’Connor. “When you bring your hands to your face and mouth and then touch the screen, you can unknowingly spread germs to other family members.” Patrice Tim Sing, MD, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, agrees. “I routinely disinfect doorknobs, light switches, water bottles, tabletops, and any frequently touched areas, especially where my 8-year-old son and his friends play,” she says. Other places you may be forgetting: sink handles, refrigerator handles, the remote control, video game controllers, and the computer mouse.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Plain old H2O can be a great help when it comes to treating colds. The steam from a shower can help open up stuffed nasal passages and loosen mucus; try putting fun items like suction toys and shaving cream in the tub to encourage kids to linger in the warm water. It’s also crucial to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Oral electrolyte solutions, like Enfamil® Enfalyte®, are formulated with an optimal balance of carbohydrates to promote fluid and electrolyte absorption and quickly restore hydration.
Surviving cough and cold season.
“The best ‘medicine’ to support the immune system during cough and cold season continues to be healthy eating, exercise, and a good night’s sleep,” says Sue Hubbard, MD, a pediatrician at Inwood Village Pediatrics in Dallas and chief medical editor for the media company The Kid’s Doctor. If your child does catch a cold, she recommends a couple of natural products that can help ease the symptoms. For the sniffles or a stuffy nose, use saline spray or drops to flush out mucus and moisturize dry, irritated nasal passages. Honey can be an effective treatment for a cough in children ages 12 months and up; you can try a natural cough syrup that contains honey or simply stir honey into hot water or tea.
Yes, you should consider a flu shot.
The flu vaccine is often hotly debated among parents, but it’s still the top defense doctors recommend against the illness. “First of all, the flu shot is not a live vaccine, so it’s impossible to catch the flu from it,” says Dr. O’Connor. “My three kids have all received the vaccine annually since they were 6 months old, and fortunately — whether it’s because of the shot or just pure luck — none of them have gotten the flu.” The first cases of flu usually crop up in October and November, so most pediatricians’ offices have the vaccine available as early as late August or September. The flu shot can now even be administered to children with a mild egg allergy, who weren’t able to get it in previous years, says Dr. Maypole; consult your pediatrician for more information. While the CDC recommends the vaccine for everyone 6 months and older, it’s particularly important for kids ages 4 and under, adults ages 50 years and older, pregnant women, anyone with a complex or chronic condition (including asthma, diabetes, and neurologic disorders), and anyone who lives with someone with these conditions.
It’s always safe to stay home.
“Many children will have serial upper respiratory infections over the wintertime — annoying, but not dangerous,” says Dr. Maypole. “If your child has a runny nose or cough, but is otherwise well, it may be reasonable to send him to school.” But if he has more severe symptoms, like fever, vomiting, or diarrhea, staying home is the better option. “I always have my son stay home when he has a fever, even if it’s low-grade. A fever typically means we are still contagious,” explains Dr. Sing. “We can help to stop the cycle of sickness that tends to go around the classroom by ‘keeping our germs to ourselves.’” Wait until the symptoms have been resolved for 24 hours (or until your child is cleared by his health provider) before sending him or her back to school or daycare.