There is no denying that kids and their families get sick more often when school is in session. Children don’t fully understand how illnesses spread and may not be the best about hygiene, which makes schools a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria. Kids often share germs better than toys and school supplies, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to decrease the chances your child will bring germs home. Read on to learn how to help keep the whole family healthy during the school year.
Keeping kids healthy at school: Tips for parents and teachers
Teach proper hand washing
The most important sickness prevention tool? Teaching children to wash their hands. Proper hand washing, especially after using the restroom and before eating, will go a long way to minimize germs spread in the classroom. But getting a class full of children to wash their hands is no easy task. One way to ensure kids wash their hands for long enough is to have them sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while they wash. It’s also a fun way to get them involved and make the task less of a chore and more of a game.
Hand washing is important and effective, but there are other ways to keep your kids healthy at school too. Kids who are old enough to know not to put hand sanitizer in their mouths can use it when soap and water aren’t available. Hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol is effective at killing germs as long as hands aren’t visibly dirty.
Promote healthy immune systems
Keeping children’s immune systems in tip-top shape is another important way to keep them healthy throughout the year.
- Ensure your child gets enough sleep
Most kids between ages three and 13 need 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night. Younger children need even more; older children need a little less.
- Encourage physical activity
Kids need at least 40 minutes of exercise per day. Make sure you set aside time for them to go outside and be active every day. If outdoor activity isn’t possible, get them moving indoors. Children learn their habits from their parents first, so if you consistently model good exercise habits, they will too. The whole family will be healthier that way.
- Prepare healthy meals
Feed them a healthy diet filled with vitamins and minerals that growing bodies need.
Our immune systems function better when we eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, and exercise consistently. Since the immune system is the body’s first line of defense against germs and illnesses, ensuring it works as well as it can will help keep your whole family healthier.
Keep the germs out of school
Parents should keep children home from school when they are sick, depending on symptoms. Children with a temperature over 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit should stay home from school until the fever has been gone for more than 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicines such as Tylenol or ibuprofen. These medicines help children feel better when they have fevers, but they don’t actually cure the fever—they just decrease the body’s temperature temporarily. The same 24-hour rule applies to vomiting and diarrhea. Stomach viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhea are highly contagious and can spread quickly in a classroom environment. Keep your child home from school for a full 24 hours after the last time they vomit or have diarrhea.
Cough and cold symptoms are a little trickier. Children can get up to 10 colds per year and generally aren’t expected to stay at home every time they have a runny nose. When it comes to colds, take your child’s activity level into consideration. If they are lethargic and have cold symptoms, staying home from school is better for everyone. If they just have a runny nose and otherwise act the same, there is probably no reason to miss school.
It’s equally important to teach children how germs spread in terms they can understand to enable them to take some responsibility for their health. Teach children not to share food, cups, or utensils. Teach them to cough into their elbows instead of their hands and not to touch other children that appear to be sick, if at all possible. The germs that cause pinkeye, colds, the flu, and nearly every other common childhood illness are spread through droplets on people or objects. Teach your child to keep their hands off of their face. Parents should do the same. This is much easier said than done, but it can help cut down on illnesses.
Teachers can minimize the spread of germs in the classroom by wiping down frequently touched surfaces as often as possible. Keep a stash of disinfecting wipes in your classroom and wipe off door and faucet handles, desks, chairs, and any other shared classroom equipment.
Keep your family healthy at home
While you may do everything right with your own children, they will still be exposed to germs at school and will occasionally come home sick. However, just because one child in the family gets sick doesn’t mean everyone else has to. Continuing to encourage your family to use good hand-washing habits reduces the chances that other family members will get sick. Keep the sick child (or adult) away from the rest of the family as much as possible, and wash your hands before and after contacting the child, their food, dishes, linens, and anything else they might have touched.
Clean often and use disinfecting wipes on frequently touched surfaces. You may rarely think about cleaning your doorknobs, remote controls, and cell phones, but think about how many times per day you touch them. They are covered in germs, dirt, and grime, and cleaning them will keep you and your family healthier.
Avoid germs at the office
Unfortunately, schools are not the only places that germs spread. Germs are everywhere in our communities, and even more so when people are together in close quarters such as office buildings. While adults typically have better hygiene habits than kids, there are other important ways to minimize the spread of germs in the workplace.
Just as your kids shouldn’t go to school when they’re sick, you shouldn’t go to work if you come down with something. If you are sick and you go to work, you not only expose others to your germs, but you probably aren’t getting the work done that you need to either. It is well established that presenteeism, when employees show up to work but can’t perform their duties adequately due to illness, is a huge problem. If you have sick time, use it. If you have the ability to work from home, do so. If you don’t have either, talk to your boss and explain your illness. Chances are good they won’t want to risk other employees getting sick. Adults get sick an average of two to four times per year. Parents of school-aged children tend to be on the higher side because they come into contact with more germs than other adults.
If you are not sick but others in your office are, take the same precautions you would elsewhere. Wash your hands often and clean surfaces like your desk, computer keyboard, phone, and doorknobs. If you don’t have a desk job, think about surfaces that are touched frequently and clean those as often as you can. Don’t count on the housekeeping or custodial staff to cover every base.
Regardless of where you and your family are during cold and flu season, the steps you can take to keep everyone healthy remain the same. Make sure everyone knows how to wash their hands the right way, clean frequently touched surfaces often, and stay home if you are sick. Keeping your body healthy by getting enough sleep, eating a well-balanced diet, and exercising often will give you the best chance at fighting off the germs you may come into contact with.
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