The shorter days and the changing weather are sure signs that the cold and flu season is not far off. From sneezing, coughing, and runny noses to vomiting, fever, and headaches, the late fall and winter months can bring misery, especially for families with younger children. Although avoiding sickness altogether is not likely, there are steps that you can take to ensure that your kids will suffer less and bounce back faster from these unwelcomed visitors.
Sleep is one of the easiest yet underutilized antidotes to sickness and even many mental health challenges. Unfortunately, the end of the summer and the beginning of the school year bring a new level of busy for the average family. Students need to be up, fed and ready for the bus in the morning, and many parents then need to rush off to work; after school and work there’s homework, sports, dance, girl scouts, part-time jobs, social engagements, housework, meal prep, etc., etc. When schedules get tight, sleep is usually one of the first healthy lifestyle choices to take the hit.
In order to stay healthy and take on the enormous task of raising kids, parents need seven or eight hours of sleep each night. Our kids need much more; according to the National Sleep Foundation, children ages 3-5 require between 11 and 13 hours of sleep each night, children ages 6-13 require between 10 and 12 hours of sleep, and teenagers between the ages of 14-17 require 9 to 10 hours of sleep. Regular routines are critical to making this a reality. If bedtime for your pre-teens is 8:30, begin winding things down by 7:30. This is a great time to give baths, read together or individually, or just have the kids play quietly. Video games or screens are not the best wind-down tools.
Teenagers are notorious for wanting to stay up late. Some parents allow their teenagers to choose when they go to bed, assuming they will make up time by sleeping in on the weekend. Unfortunately, the teenage body does not work like that. We all know how it feels to be tired – foggy headed, a bit crabby, and possibly moody or sad; multiply those feelings by a factor of three, and that is what your teenager experiences from a lack of sleep. The proper amount of sleep will keep your child healthy and mentally strong.
Equally as important as sleep in maintaining the health of child is a well-balanced diet. Here again is where the busyness of life can work against us as parents. Running between appointments or sporting events can leave little time for regular grocery shopping and quality meal preparation. Healthy eating must become a priority. Consider preparing meals for the entire week during the weekend, when schedules are not quite so hectic. Cooking several meals at a time is more efficient and can be an opportunity to create positive family time memories. Avoid the temptation to rely on fast food several times per week or processed snacks to fill lunch boxes. Fresh food and real food have far fewer chemical additives and provide far more nutrients than manufactured food. Eating right can keep your child strong in mind, body and spirit.
A third requirement for healthy children is exercise. As technology has made all of our lives more sedentary, we as parents need to be proactive in ensuring that our children receive adequate amounts of physical movement and fresh air. Enrolling your child in sports or other activities that involve exercise is probably the easiest way to check this box, but also try to make physical activity part of your family’s identity; go for walks in the park or bike rides regularly and/or set up a workout room in your home with free weights and a treadmill if possible. Obesity has become an epidemic for our young people, which has resulted in countless immediate and chronic health issues.
Even if we do our best to keep our family healthy, one or more of us will most likely come down with a head cold or the stomach flu over the next six months. To make the recovery process shorter and more bearable, try these simple tips.
- For colds, place several drops of Eucalyptus oil on a napkin on a nightstand next to your child’s bed (but be careful – it stains so I put the napkin on a plate). This clears the nasal passages and makes for a better night’s sleep.
- For coughs, rub some Vicks Vapor Rub on the bottom of your child’s feet and have them wear socks to bed (no really, this works). And consider adding a humidifier in your child’s room for dry coughs.
- If your child is vomiting, and is asking for water, begin with a very small amount (a tablespoon), and then wait 30 minutes. If the vomiting has stopped, increase the amount of water slightly, and then wait another 30 minutes. If the child keeps the water down after a couple of hours, it is probably safe to drink again.
- 7-up and saltine crackers are still the ticket to transition your child from a sour stomach to real food.
Keep in mind that occasional illnesses allow children to build up their body’s immune systems, so don’t go overboard in protecting your child from every germ or virus. Try to avoid medications when natural solutions are available. Most importantly, focus on assisting your children to develop healthy habits that will make the cold and flu season more manageable and will serve them well for the rest of their lives.