If you’re a parent or caregiver, you’ll be right back into the swing of the school term routine by now and with the weather cooling, many of us start bracing ourselves for the onslaught of lurgies that come with the season. Waking up to sick kids can throw even the most efficient of routines right out the window and send one’s week into a total spin! Below are some tips to help prevent your kids from ills and chills this term, and if they do happen to get sick, this advice should hopefully put them in good stead to fight the lurgies like the immune warriors that they are born to be!
Focus on gut health
I’ve listed this first, as a healthy gut is the foundation to good health and a strong immune system. Like adults, children’s gut bacteria can get thrown out of balance due to poor diet, medication (especially antibiotics), stress and illness. With over 70% of immune system being based in the gut, it is essential that the micro-flora is in balance. If your child has frequent tummy upsets or frequent infections, it is often a sign of compromised gut health. Having a healthy diet (see below) is vital for healthy gut bacteria, but this is either not always possible or implemented. Fermented foods (ie. yoghurt, sauerkraut) are great inclusions in the diet, but often a probiotic is also needed, especially after antibiotics. Speak to your health food store or chemist to see what child-friendly probiotic would be best for your child.
Increase their intake of immune boosting foods and drinks
Keeping children’s bodies fueled with immune-boosting foods and drinks is the most common-sense approach to keeping them well. Children’s immune systems take a small hit every time they consume highly processed foods, particularly those high in sugar, preservatives and additives. Be sure to include foods high in immune-boosting vitamin C such as; tomatoes, oranges, kiwifruit and capsicums. Onions and garlic are also excellent foods to incorporate into dishes to help fight off colds and flus. If your child doesn’t enjoy onions (I don’t think many do!), you could try throwing a whole onion into a food processor and blending it until it’s a fine mush. You can then mix into pasta sauces, risottos and burger patties and they will be none the wiser, as you’ve taken away the “gross crunchy onion” factor many kids despise! Incorporating a large selection of fruits and vegetables is also important, but when little ones are sick, it is often the very last thing they feel like eating. Consider blending your greens (ie. kale, baby spinach, mint) into a smoothie and if green “dinosaur smoothies” aren’t their thing, a teaspoon of cocoa powder can always help to disguise a handful of spinach thrown in!
Minimise sugar intake
We all know that too much sugar is detrimental to overall health and wellbeing, but many people aren’t aware of just how much damage it can do to our immune system. When we consume sugar, it immediately suppresses the function of the immune system, making it less efficient at doing its job of fighting invaders that come into the body. Keep kids sugar intake to a minimum year-round for your best bet at preventing illness in the first place, but pay particular attention to their intake when they are unwell. Sugar from fresh fruit is OK in moderation, but avoid biscuits and cakes, juice, soft drinks, lollies etc.
Kids are more likely to fall unwell when they’re not getting enough sleep. Try to keep a regular sleep routine for your children and avoid over-stimulation before bed. Tablets and TV watching can disrupt their natural melatonin production (the ‘sleep hormone’) so avoid use at least an hour before their scheduled bedtime. Night lights can also affect melatonin production, so try to avoid these where possible, or at least have them on their very lowest setting. As every parent can attest to, a good night’s sleep is a rare occurrence when children are unwell, so here’s a few tips to help if they are unwell:
- If they have a cough or running nose, try rubbing their feet with a formula containing essential oils such as thyme, peppermint and eucalyptus. Pop socks on overnight. This works a treat in our household!
- Ensure their bedroom is warm and dry
- If they have a cough or nasal congestion, try raising their pillow higher than you usually would
Avoid over-scheduling life
Along with a new school term often comes additional extra curricular activities. While it is obviously highly advantageous for kids to be involved in sports and music etc, it’s important to ensure that you’re not over-committed to these as a family. Rushing from a-b-c-d most days to fit in each kid’s activities can create a stressful environment for all. Kids are sponges for our emotions and often pick up on our stressed states! Just like adults, children’s cortisol and adrenaline rise when they are rushed and stressed. A raise in these stress hormones is detrimental to immune health and can open the way for viruses to attack. Be realistic when planning extra-curricular activities about what the whole family can achieve with as little stress as possible. Schedule down time into the daily routine and try to stick to it!
While those extra cuddles when they’re unwell are always welcome, it’s never fun watching our poor wee poppets feeling miserable. So rug up, implement any of the advice above that resonates with you and get out into the sunshine wherever possible. Most importantly, welcome the slower pace of life that winter naturally encourages!