Saturday, October 22, 2011

Keeping Our Kids Happy and Healthy Through The Holidays

“Can I wear my gloves today?” asks my daughter holding up her new pink gloves decorated with snowflakes.  It’s the end of October and sixty degrees outside.  It’s been unseasonably warm this season, and we’re only just starting see some colder weather announcing the arrival of autumn.  

So I tell her, “Not yet, but soon.  It’s cold, but not cold enough for snow yet.”  She nods and puts them in her backpack for safekeeping.  “Maybe it will be cold enough tomorrow!”  

The she zips up her backpack, thinks for a second, and then asks, “Can I wear my boots?”

And so it goes…  in the end, we’ve compromised.  She can wear her boots this weekend, her hat now, and her gloves when she goes to the playground today if she wants.

Cold weather is here, and we are spending more time indoors sharing viruses and germs.  Kids and adults alike tend to get sicker in the winter months because of this.  Parents can take help prevent illness in their children by teaching them valuable skills that will prevent illness.

Regardless of age, one of the most important methods of prevention is good hand washing.  My kids are notorious for running their hands under the water for three seconds (maybe getting a little bit of soap if we’re feeling extra good today) and then quickly wiping their hands on a towel as they run out to get back to playing. 

To wash our hands properly, we should rinse our hands with water and soap for at least twenty seconds, or the time it takes to sing the alphabet song.  For children who are old enough, teach them how to wash correctly.  Show them how to clean the tips of the fingers especially well since children tend to put their fingers in their mouths often.

One of the most common ways that we pick up germs or viruses is by touching surfaces that someone else who has been sick coughed on, sneezed on, or touched.  Then we end up infecting ourselves or our children.

Many parents also notice how younger siblings seem to get sicker at a younger age or perhaps more often than an older sibling did.  This is because the older child brings germs or viruses home from school or daycare and infects the younger child.

Colds, flu, and vomiting/diarrhea diseases are some of the most common illnesses that children get from others.  If your child ends up with any of these illnesses, here are some tips to help you and your child get through them.

For colds and flu, it is important to give your child plenty of fluids.  Food is not as important while they are ill, and your child may lose her appetite while sick.  Hydrating your child with age-appropriate fluids is important.  Running a humidifier in the child’s bedroom and having her sleep in a more upright position will ease nighttime congestion and cough.  For children older than 1 year, giving 1 teaspoon of dark honey can quiet coughing episodes.   In general, over-the-counter cold medications are not recommended for children under the age of 6 years.  If your child has fever greater than 104, has prolonged fevers for more than 3days, has a severe cough, chest pain, wheezing, or seems lethargic, call your doctor immediately.

In the past, we were all told “cover your mouth when you cough”… and we did this with our hands.  However, when a child coughs and covers his mouth with his hand, the virus particles get all over that hand, spreading the virus to others as he touches various surfaces.    To help keep from spreading germs, teach your child to cough into the crook of his or her elbow.  And again, good hand-washing is key to prevention of spread.

Use antibacterial hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available.  These are effective for killing many of the germs that can cause illnesses.

For vomiting and diarrhea illnesses at all ages, it is very important to prevent dehydration.  This can be done by giving small frequent sips of an electrolyte solution, such as Pedialyte.  If your child refuses to drink or cannot keep large amounts down, then give 5 mL every 5 minutes using a medicine syringe.  This can hydrate a child successfully and will be less likely to trigger more vomiting.

You should avoid giving juice or sports drinks because the excessive sugar in these liquids can result in worsening diarrhea.  Giving water alone does not provide enough of the salts and sugars that the body needs to function.  Probiotics can also be very helpful with diarrhea illnesses.  These can be found in yogurt (if your child isn't vomiting) and in powder or chewable tablet forms in most drug stores and several grocery stores.

If your child shows signs of dehydration, call your doctor immediately.  Signs of dehydration include increased thirst, dry mouth, sunken fontanelle (for infants), doughy-feeling skin, decreased urine production, and lethargy or tiredness. 

Regardless of the type of illness, do not send your child to school if he or she has a fever.  Viral illnesses are the most contagious when the person has a fever.  Most viruses are spread by respiratory droplets or contact with fluids that contain virus, so even though the fever is gone, your child may still be contagious to others.  Use your best judgment when deciding when your child should go back to school.  

Teach your child not to share food or drinks with other kids since someone else might be ill or be contagious and not realize it.

Help your child stay healthy and ready to learn by taking precautions and use prevention methods.  Teach your child to wash his or her hands often and avoid direct contact with other sick children when possible.  By doing this, everyone can stay healthy and have a happy holiday season!

Happy Fall and thanks for reading!