Series Cold and Flu Prevention for Kids

Cold and Flu Safety at School

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on November 13, 2022

Kids spend a good part of their day away from home at school or daycare, but good hygiene starts at home. Teach your kids how to do their part to stop the spread of cold and flu germs at school with a few tips.

Wash Those Hands

One of the best ways to ward off a cold or the flu is to keep hands clean. Parents and school staff can create a culture of hand hygiene with:

Handwashing. Show kids the right way to wash their hands: Use soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds and dry with a clean towel. Build time into the day for it, especially after bathroom breaks, playing outside, or handling animals, and before meals or snacks.

Hand sanitizer. Schools can put out hand sanitizer bottles with at least 60% alcohol near high-touch surfaces like water fountains, doors, and shared items, and in areas without soap and water nearby, such as the cafeteria.

Visual aids. Groups like the CDC offer posters, stickers, and other materials to help remind kids of the right way to wash up.

Cover Sneezes and Coughs

When kids cough, sneeze, or even talk, cold and flu germs spread to other people through tiny droplets from their noses and mouths. School classrooms, gyms, cafeterias, and other areas with lots of people raise the odds that one contagious kid can infect several others. Even if kids aren’t sick, they should practice good cough and sneeze hygiene:

  • Teach kids to use a tissue to cover their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze.
  • If they don’t have a tissue, they should cough or sneeze into their elbow instead of their hands.
  • Don’t forget to tell them to wash their hands after they’ve tossed the used tissue in the trash.

Wear a Mask

Experts say that face masks can slow viruses from spreading, including cold and flu viruses. Encourage kids to wear a mask at school.

Younger children may have a hard time wearing one for a long time. Make sure it’s the right size and fit and remind them why it’s important. Show your little one how to wear it the right way:

  • They should wash their hands before they put on a mask.
  • Place it over the nose and mouth and make sure it’s snug under the chin and the sides of the face.
  • Make sure they can breathe with it on.
  • Remind them not to wear their mask around their neck or on their forehead.
  • If they touch it, they should wash their hands.

Kids younger than 2 years old and those who have trouble breathing should not wear a face covering.

Limit Touching

Kids, especially little ones, explore their world through touch and taste. Babies and toddlers put toys and other objects in their mouths. Kids also touch germy surfaces, and then their face, where cold and flu viruses get into the body.

It’s impossible to escape all cold and flu germs, but remind your kids to avoid:

  • Touching their eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Touching people at school (kissing, hugging, and other close contact)
  • Putting things in their mouth

The “no touching” rule is important all the time, but even more so when kids have dirty hands or there’s an illness going around school.

Limit Sharing

You want to raise a generous kid, but not when it comes to sharing germs. Discourage them from sharing items that carry lots of germs or are hard to clean and disinfect like:

  • Electronic devices
  • Pens, pencils, crayons, and markers
  • Whiteboard erasers
  • Books
  • Games
  • Scissors and staplers
  • Food and drinks
  • Dishes and utensils

When possible, send students to school with their own supplies and keep them in separate, labeled containers, cubbies, or lockers.

Show Sources


CDC: “Cleaning, Disinfection & Hand Hygiene,” “Coughing & Sneezing,” “How to Wear Masks,” “Considerations for Wearing Masks.”

KidsHealth: “The Flu (Influenza),” “The Flu: Stop the Spread.”

MedlinePlus: “Germs and Hygiene.”

Pediatrics: “Prevention of Choking Among Children.”

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases: “Keeping Flu Out of School.”

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