When kids have to return to school after a long summer of having fun, they’re suddenly crammed into buses, classrooms, and hallways full of bacteria. From day one, their immune systems are under attack. Children tend to get a cold during the first month of returning to school. So many people are affected that some have taken to calling it the “back-to-school plague.” Our cleaning team certainly tends to get more calls at the beginning of the year for major cleaning projects due to so much illness.
There are many different ways to curtail this sudden wave of germs. Here are some good ideas for parents as they’re helping their kids avoid the “plague”:
- Reinforce good cleaning habits, especially hand-washing. According to a survey of school nurses, hand-washing is the number one recommendation for avoiding illness. If your child is young, make sure you watch when they wash their hands to make sure they’re using proper technique (not just running their hands under cold water, for instance) and also quiz them on when and how often they wash their hands.
- Make sure they avoid germ “hotspots.” Those hotspots may not be where you would expect. Actually, the germiest place in school might be the water fountain because it’s not cleaned frequently enough and kids will often put their mouths directly on it. Of course, as a parent, I was never really a fan of making kids super-paranoid. Perhaps making sure enough liquids are in their packs and lunches without them needing to use the water fountain is a good idea.
- Give their immune system a boost. I have friends who will give their children extra vitamin C for the first few weeks before school. Yogurt and oats are also good breakfast choices that can help protect kids. Eating a nutritious breakfast in general is a good idea!
- Prevent letting them stay up or stress out. Stress and a lack of sleep can negatively impact the immune system, too. Make sure the kids are getting enough sleep. Also, if you child is under a lot of stress, perhaps give them a good avenue to let off some steam, like playing ball outside for a few hours.
- Practice the elbow-sneeze. Proven in one of my favorite shows, Mythbusters, in their episode “Flu Fiction,” nasal secretions can get everywhere. (Have your kids watch that; it’s gross and educational.) They also found in “The Sneeze Spray” that the best policy for stopping the spray of mucus is to sneeze into one’s elbow. This will lower the likelihood of spreading germs to other kids. Even if they’re not the ones spreading the germs, other kids may see and copy what your kid is doing. Monkey see, monkey do!
- Let them stay home. It’s actually OK if a kid gets sick every once in a while. That way, their immune system will learn how to battle bacteria. But if your kid does get sick, do the other parents in your kid’s class a favor and keep them home! Let them stay home and sniffle, and wait until they’ve recovered to let them go back.
Of course, other parents have other ideas, too. You can also make sure your child has had a flu shot, for instance. But here’s a final tip: Talk to the teachers. They’re the ones most often found with wipes and hand sanitizers and observing kids’ bad hygiene behaviors. Ask your child’s teacher if there is a way for you to help reinforce good cleaning habits at home.