Parenting message boards are asking (and my email box is full!)—
how do I keep my kid from getting sick again this year?
Robyn J.A. Silverman, PhD
As you probably heard, the CDC has suggested that every child over 6 months old get the flu vaccine. I know, you’re probably thinking…”Wait! It’s enough! I don’t want to think about this right now!”
Your children likely just finished school vacation– and that’s supposed to mean…back to school, right? But during this time of year, my email box is full and the parenting message boards are teeming with questions about how to keep the children from getting sick this year since many of their friends are sick in bed!
We’ve all read about “Little Mary” who stared sneezing out of nowhere and “Joe Jr.” who came home from school with his head throbbing and his nose running leading to 3 days of missed school. The parenting message boards have a lot of questions so let’s get some answers!
How to deal…
(1) Diagnose the problem: Are we battling colds or the flu or something else entirely? It is often difficult to distinguish between the common cold and influenza (the flu). Both respiratory infections are caused by viruses and many of the symptoms seem to overlap. However, while the cold is often more mild with symptoms gradually becoming more apparent, the flu seems to come on full force and tends to be more severe. How can you tell the difference between the two conditions? Here is what the doctors say!
a. Flu: Feelings of weakness and exhaustion, fever, headache, achy all over, dry cough, and chest discomfort.
b. Cold: Runny nose, sneezing, or stuffy head, sore throat, mild aches and pains, mild to moderate productive cough
c. Something else: Is it allergies? Indoor and outdoor allergies can look a lot like a cold. Is your child worried about something? Children can give themselves a bellyache when they are scared or upset. Other times, your children might be “playing sick” in order to get out of going to school. Use your character education program to talk to your kids about honesty, integrity, courage, and friendship. Be available to your children and ask them if they are nervous about something that is happening at school. Keep the lines of communication open so that the children feel that they can come to you for support, goal-setting, and problem-solving rather than avoiding the problem all together.
(2) Be kind to yourself and to your kids: While our brains sometimes say, “keep going” when we don’t feel well, The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends you stay home! Children (and even adults!) need to know when to listen to their bodies and respect the need to take care of themselves. (Of course, when we talk about respect in our families, we often forget to talk about respecting ourselves—we are typically talking about respecting others, aren’t we? Add “respecting yourself” to your character education discussions!) Make sure that your family is not around smokers or second-hand smoke. Keep cold or flu sufferers hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and eating clear soups to loosen mucus and prevent dehydration. Gargle with salt water and use saline nose drops to loosen nasal mucus and moisten nasal massages.
(3) Keep ‘em healthy all year ‘round! Make sure that your whole family is taking top notch vitamins and eating right. Children are often picky eaters, teens can eat a lot of junk, and parents can often skip meals due to rushing around—vitamins and healthy snacks might be a good answer to ensure that your family is getting what they need.
(4) Get immunized: The federal panel recommended on Wednesday, February 27, that all children get vaccinated against the flu. Injectible vaccines and nasal spray vaccines are available in many towns and cities– ask your doctor where to find a place near you. Pregnant women and individuals with weak immune systems should not receive flu shots. Consult your doctor to inquire if flu inoculation is appropriate for you and your family.
(5) Don’t get too close: The American Lung Association recommends the following to keep your family from getting sick this year:
a. Avoid close contact with people who have a cold—at least during the first 72 hours when they are most contagious.
b. Encourage hand washing! Keep mutual toys clean and make sure that everyone who has a cold or has been playing with someone who has a cold washes their hands.
c. Keep fingers away from the eyes and nose to avoid the spread of infection
d. Keep an extra towel in the bathroom for those who are healthy so that they are not sharing dirty towels with someone who is sick
e. Keep your house humid to keep sinuses from drying out. A simple way to do this is to use a humidifier.
f. Encourage anyone who is sick to cover their mouth when they sneeze or cough and to wash their hands often!
Good Luck! Let’s keep ’em healthy so that they can stay active in all the powerful activities they love!