Winter has come which means cold and flu season is in full swing. As parents gear up to protect their kids from the onslaught of bacteria and viruses, there are a few important steps that can be taken to protect their little ones. While it is impossible to prevent all illnesses, you can be proactive against these germs to prevent more severe illness. Here are four ways you can help protect your kids from illness this cold and flu season.

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Eat a variety of nutrient rich foods

The foundation for anyone, including children, to build a strong immune system lies in proper nutrition. Make sure your child is eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and lean proteins to help support the immune system. Avoid high amounts of sugar, which are known to decrease the function of the immune system. Some of the most important nutrients to support the immune system are vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc. Good sources of vitamin A include fish, eggs, leafy green vegetables, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Foods such as citrus, bell peppers, strawberries, kiwi, and broccoli are great sources of vitamin C. Meats, shellfish, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds are good sources of zinc. There are very few foods that contain vitamin D. This is a vitamin that we typically think about absorbing from the sun. However, in the winter, depending on where you live, you may not have much exposure to sunlight. Therefore, many people need to supplement their diets with vitamin D during the winter months. 

Another important way to keep the immune system healthy is having a healthy gut. Probiotics are known as the good bacteria in our gut that help fight off the bad bacteria. Some probiotic rich foods include sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, organic grass-fed yogurts, miso, and kimchi. 

Lastly, hydration is very important for a healthy immune system. Most children do not drink enough water during the day.  A good measure of the amount of water a child should drink each day is about 1 cup per year of age. For example, a 3yo should be drinking about 3 (8oz) cups of water daily. 

Promote sleep health

Good quality sleep is important for all children when it comes to building a strong immune system. While asleep, the body repairs itself through regeneration processes, strengthening its defense against germs. Create a consistent bedtime routine for your children so they get the recommended sleep for their age. Limit screen time before bed and create a calm environment that will promote a restful night of sleep.

Having a consistent sleep pattern will not only improve your child’s ability to fight off colds but also contribute to their overall health. If your child is having trouble sleeping, consult your doctor to see if there may be an underlying issue and work with your child’s doctor to create healthy sleep habits.

Get the kids active

Getting your kids active is not only crucial for the development of motor skills but it plays an important role in boosting the immune system. Having your children be active promotes the building of immune cells within the body, helping it respond quicker to possible infections. Get outside and play with the kids. Throw a ball. Have them run around with the family dog. Ride bikes together. Anything you can do that gets your kids moving and active will help.

Outdoor activities also allow your children to receive much needed vitamin D. This vitamin is important for immune function and boosting bone health. 

In today’s world, kids are attached to screens. More screen time means less physical activity. Do your best to limit screen time and promote more movement, whether indoors or out.  Increased physical activity is not only important for a healthy immune system. It helps create an overall healthier lifestyle for your children and your family. 

Focus on healthy hygiene

Teaching good hygiene is important to prevent the spread of germs and reduce infections. Teach your kids how to properly wash their hands, especially before mealtime, after using the bathroom as well as after coughing or sneezing. Stand with them and show them how to wash their hands using warm water and soap. Sing Happy Birthday or Itsy-Bitsy spider twice while washing your hands. This typically takes around 20 seconds which is the proper length of time to thoroughly wash your hands. 

Teach your child to sneeze or cough into their elbow or ideally into a tissue. Avoid having your children share food and drinks and talk to your child about avoiding touching their face and putting fingers in their eyes, nose, and mouth. These are all easy ways for germs to spread from one person to another. 

A proactive approach during cold and flu season is so important to prevent illness and keep your children healthy. By focusing on these four areas, you will support your child’s immune system and decrease the spread of germs. 

Author: Dr. Kiera Smialek is a naturopathic pediatrician with Natural Kid Doc in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Smialek is a specialist in the field of naturopathic pediatrics and is the only practicing board certified naturopathic pediatrician in Arizona.