How can I keep my toddler from getting sick this winter?
Good question, since as sure as the mercury drops, cold and flu viruses make the rounds through homes and daycare facilities each year. If only there were a way to guarantee that your toddler won’t get sick. Is there?
“Not really,” says Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Many common winter viruses are airborne, so if your toddler takes a breath within, say, 4 to 6 feet of someone who’s sick, he can easily catch the bug himself.
What’s more, most people stricken by winter viruses are contagious before they develop symptoms. So pulling your child away from a sniffling, coughing, or sneezing pal doesn’t guarantee that he won’t come down with similar symptoms himself.
Neither will bundling him up: Studies have shown that exposure to cold or damp weather doesn’t increase a child’s likelihood of catching a cold, says Offit.
Still, don’t give up without a fight. There are several simple steps you can take to help fend off germs and keep your toddler as healthy as possible this winter.
So what should I do?
While it’s practically inevitable that your toddler will get a few colds this winter no matter what you do, it won’t hurt to try these germ-fighting strategies:
Make sure your child washes his hands.
Regular hand washing is the simplest, most effective way to get rid of cold and flu bugs. So help your child wash his hands with soap and warm water after he uses the toilet, before meals and snacks, and as soon as he comes home from daycare, the playground, or a friend’s house.
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You wash up, too, especially before preparing food and after you change a diaper or wipe a runny nose. No need to pay extra for fancy antibacterial soaps — any soap will remove germs from the skin’s surface.
Make sure your child’s caregivers are vigilant about hand washing, too. If your toddler’s in daycare, ask what the official hand-washing policy is. If it’s less than satisfactory, don’t be shy about requesting a change and reminding caregivers that this protects their health as well.
Teach your child not to touch his eyes or nose.
At any given moment, the unwashed human hand is covered with thousands of germs. When a child rubs his eyes or nose, he’s depositing those germs directly onto his mucous membranes, where they’re rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
So in addition to having your toddler wash his hands frequently, remind him not to touch his eyes or rub his nose. Instead, begin teaching him to use a tissue — or at least a clean sleeve — to dab at teary eyes or an itchy nose.
While you’re at it, you can start teaching him to use tissues when he sneezes or coughs — or to “catch” his coughs and sneezes in the crook of his arm. This won’t prevent him from getting a virus, but it will help keep him from giving one. Of course, he’s only a toddler, so expect this process to take a while.
If your child’s in daycare, check the “sick-kid” policy.
Make sure your child’s daycare center has a reasonable policy on keeping sick kids away from healthy ones. Many facilities require a child with a fever, the flu, vomiting, diarrhea, or an eye infection to stay home until these symptoms subside.
If you notice obviously sick kids at your child’s daycare on a regular basis, it’s probably time to chat with the caregiver or director about enforcing the rules on sick kids more stringently. (Of course, these kids were contagious before their symptoms showed up, but you still don’t want them sneezing or coughing around your toddler.)
Do what you can to boost your toddler’s immunity naturally.
Offer your child a variety of healthy foods so he gets the nutrients he needs. Make sure he gets plenty of sleep each night as well as lots of physical activity every day.
What to do when your child gets sick
Since children average eight to ten colds a year, it’s a good bet that your toddler will bring home a few bugs this winter — no matter how hard you try to prevent it. When that happens, the best you can do is make him comfortable until the virus works its way out of his system. A few tips:
Try saline nose drops.
You might get some complaints about this one, but saline drops help to thin and clear nasal mucus and relieve congestion.
For best results, try using a bulb syringe: If your toddler will let you, tilt his head back slightly, then gently squeeze the bulb to deposit the saline drops in his nose. Next, use the bulb to remove the mucus. Repeat this process several times a day.
Make sure your child gets enough rest.
While this may be easier said than done, the more rest your child gets, the sooner he’ll feel better. Even if he no longer naps regularly, encourage a siesta or two each day.
When your child’s not resting in his crib or bed, find some quiet activities to share — read to him, watch a video with him, or play with puppets together.
Hook up the humidifier.
This is especially important at night and during naps, when a persistent cough or difficulty breathing can prevent your child from getting the rest he needs. The moist air from a humidifier or vaporizer will thin your toddler’s mucous secretions, helping to calm his cough and relieve congestion.
Urge your child to drink up.
Children lose body fluids quickly when they’re sick — especially if they’re running a fever or have diarrhea. To replenish these fluids, encourage your child to drink plenty of liquids, such as water, juice, an electrolyte solution, or milk. (There’s no scientific proof that dairy products make congestion worse.)
If your child balks at slugging down a tall drink, try offering extra-juicy fruit (such as watermelon or oranges) or even a frozen juice pop. One old wives’ tale that is worth taking to heart: Warm chicken soup helps relieve cold symptoms by soothing a sore throat and thinning nasal secretions.
Know when to call the doctor.
While most winter viruses clear up on their own within several days, some can turn into more serious conditions that require prompt treatment.
Call the doctor if your child has any of these symptoms:
Ear or face pain, which can signal an ear infection
A very sore throat that interferes with drinking enough fluids
Wheezing or trouble breathing (a possible sign of a bronchial infection or pneumonia)
A fever of 103 degrees or higher, or a milder fever that lasts for more than three days
Make time to snuggle.
When kids are feeling under the weather, they need a little extra TLC. So in addition to cooking chicken soup, running for the tissue box, and keeping a constant watch on your toddler’s temperature, make time to simply snuggle with him.
Give him plenty of hugs and time on your lap during the day, and if you normally have a “no kids in the big bed” rule at night, think about temporarily relaxing the policy. (Of course, you may soon be sniffling yourself, but such is the price of parenthood.)
Keep it all in perspective.
When you’re taking care of a sick, miserable toddler, try to remember that most winter illnesses pass in a week or so — and all of them will ultimately help strengthen your child’s immune system.
As your toddler gets older and builds up immunity to viruses, including many of the 200 that cause the common cold, he’ll log fewer and fewer sick days. In the meantime, keep up the hand washing — and stock up on tissues.
Courtesy: Reviewed by Baby Center Medical Advisory Board