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As your babies get older -- and grow out of that maddening I-must-put-everything-in-my- mouth phase -- you can start teaching them habits that will protect them from germs like cold and flu viruses. How soon? The sooner the better.

"Good hygiene habits are much easier to introduce when your kids are young," says Laura A. Jana, MD, a pediatrician in Omaha, Neb. and co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn and Food Fights. "Bad habits are hard to break."

Adopting healthy habits for kids can have concrete benefits. Dodging just one or two of those day care cold viruses could save you a lot of misery. And healthy habits can help protect your child from swine flu this fall and winter. Even if the benefits aren't immediate, teaching healthy habits will pay off.

"If they start learning proper hygiene when they're young, they may not get sick as much when they're older," says TanyaRemer Altmann, MD, a pediatrician and author of Mommy Calls:Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers.

So what sort of healthy habits for kids are realistic? Can a preschooler really learn ways to get protection from cold and flu viruses? Here's what the experts have to say.

Healthy Habits for Kids: Getting in a Routine

When teaching healthy habits, focus on what's important. You probably don't need to lecture toddlers on the germ theory of disease. Concepts like contagion are probably too hard to grasp for little kids.

"You really can't teach a preschooler to stay away from a friend who's coughing," Jana tells WebMD.

So instead of explaining, the key is to practice and ritualize some good behaviors. If you make them systematic, the odds are much better that you kids will stick with them -- and stay a little healthier as a result.

"If you make good habits part of a routine, it all becomes much easier," says Jana. "Your kids will do them without thinking."

Healthy Habits for Kids: Hand Washing

When it comes to healthy habits for kids, hand washing is the most important one. To make it work, it's got to be built into their daily routines.

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