Want to cut the odds that your child will get sick? Keep germs away with two big weapons: good hygiene and a flu vaccine.
"The best thing you can do to prevent catching whatever is going around is to encourage regular hand-washing, especially before eating meals," says Bridget Boyd, MD, director of the newborn nursery at Loyola University Health System in Chicago.
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Also, teach your child to sneeze or cough into a tissue or his bent elbow instead of his hands. That will keep him from spreading germs onto everything he touches.
Encourage good hygiene with sticker charts or rewards, Boyd suggests. "Don't emphasize bad behavior. Instead, say, ‘Wow, I noticed you didn't put your hands in your mouth for the whole drive to school.'"
Keep hand sanitizer within easy reach, but supervise younger kids when they use it.
"Older children, such as school-age kids, can be given small bottles of hand sanitizer to carry with them in their backpacks," Boyd says.
Flu Shots for Kids
Your second way to keep germs away is a flu vaccine. Babies ages 6 months and up can get the shot. Generally, kids ages 2 and older can start getting the nasal spray (unless they have asthma or a very stuffy nose at the time of their doctor's visit).
"It's like using your seatbelt in the car," Boyd says, who has seen even healthy kids land in intensive care with severe flu symptoms. "Most of the time, you'll be just fine without your seat belt. You wear it for that one time when there's a bad accident and it could save your life. Most seasons, your child would be just fine without a flu shot, but why take the risk that she'll get a bad strain of the flu that you could have prevented?"
Some kids with egg allergies can now get the flu vaccine. "We used to shy away from giving the flu shot to anyone who's ever had a reaction to eggs," Boyd says. "But many kids outgrow egg allergies. If your child can eat scrambled eggs with no reaction, they can get immunized normally. Even if they get just a mild rash, we'll still give the vaccine and just observe them carefully."