Getting Your Child Ready for Cold and Flu Season

Costumes, campfires ... and colds? When summer rides off into the sunset, the beginning of cold and flu season isn’t too far behind. Follow these tips to ward off infection.

Get a Flu Shot

It’s the best way to avoid getting sick. Kids younger than age 5 who catch the flu are more likely to have other serious health problems like pneumonia.

Experts suggest children 6 months and older get the vaccine every year. Kids 6 months or older can get it as a shot. A nasal spray is available for children ages 2 and up.

Teach Good Hygiene

Even young kids can learn basic hygiene habits. Show your child how and when they should wash their hands. They should:

  • Wet their hands with warm water
  • Rub their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds
  • Rinse and dry with a clean towel

Kids should wash their hands:

  • Before making or eating food
  • After using the bathroom
  • After touching garbage

Cold and flu germs spread when you cough, sneeze, or talk. Remind kids to use a tissue to cover their mouth and nose. If they don’t have any, they should use the inside of their elbow -- not their hands. Be sure to throw away used tissues and follow up with handwashing.

Clean and Disinfect

Step up your cleaning routine to get ready for cold and flu season. You’ll want to clean and disinfect:

High-touch surfaces. Doorknobs, light switches, countertops, and other areas you touch a lot attract germs. Clean them with soap and water to remove grime, then disinfect with an EPA-approved product to kill germs. Remember to wear gloves that you can throw away or wash and wear again.

Toys. It’s safe to throw stuffed toys in the washing machine, and you can wash some plastic toys in the dishwasher or by hand. Be sure to read the cleaning directions first.

Laundry. Wash clothes, towels, linens, and other items using the manufacturer’s instructions. Use warm water if you can, and fully dry items.

Boost Their Immune System

Your child’s immune system protects them from disease, and their lifestyle could impact how it responds to a cold or the flu. You can help strengthen their immune system with:

Continued

Healthy food and vitamins. Kids should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables with vitamins A, B6, C, and E, and minerals like zinc, selenium, iron, and folic acid. If you don’t think your child is getting enough, try a multivitamin.

Sleep. A lack of sleep may lower your child’s chances of fighting off an illness. Studies show that adults who sleep for 8 or more hours a night and have better quality sleep are less likely to catch a cold. School-age children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep a day.

Exercise. Regular exercise supports a healthy immune system and overall good health. There’s also evidence it helps with blood flow, which allows cells and immune system matter to move through your body and do their job well. School-age kids should get 60 minutes of moderate to intense exercise every day.
Stress. Researchers have found that stress can throw off your child’s immune system and stress hormone (cortisol) levels, raising their chances of getting sick. Watch out for signs of stress like sleep changes, mood swings, stomachaches, and other physical and changes in behavior. Spend time with them and be there to listen, make sure they’re getting enough sleep, and eating healthy food. Help them learn healthy ways to manage stress.

Plan Ahead

A cold or the flu can happen at any time. Try to stock up on supplies now. Look for these items: 

  • Tissue, paper towels, and toilet paper
  • Cold and flu medicine (pain relievers, decongestants, and cough drops)
  • Liquids (low-sodium soup, decaf tea)
  • Household cleaners and disinfectants
  • Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
  • Soap (hand soap, dish soap, and laundry detergent)
  • Thermometer
  • Heat or ice pack

Also, think about things for your little one to do when they’re home sick all day. Pick activities that don’t need too much energy -- ones they can do in bed or on the couch, finish quickly, or come back to later. Ideas include:

  • Books (paper, audio, and coloring books)
  • Puzzles
  • Building blocks
  • Modeling clay
  • Music
  • Board games
  • Brain games (crosswords, word searches)
  • Simple arts and crafts
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on October 27, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Harvard Medical School: “How to boost your immune system.”

Seattle Children’s: “Activities for Children Sick at Home.”

CDC: “Influenza: Young Children,” “When & How to Wash Your Hands,” “Cleaning Your Home,” “How much physical activity do children need?” “Coughing & Sneezing.”

American Public Health Association: “Cold & flu supplies: What you need when you are home sick.”

Archives of Internal Medicine: “Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold.”

SleepFoundation.org: “How Much Sleep Do Babies and Kids Need?”

The Journal of Immunology: “Psychological Stress in Children May Alter the Immune Response.”

KidsHealth: “Childhood Stress,” “Hand Washing: Why It’s So Important,” “Choosing Safe Toys.”

EPA: “6 Steps for Safe & Effective Disinfectant Use.”

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