This content has been clinically reviewed by Andi Shane, MD.
You don’t need us to tell you that the flu is no fun, especially for kids.
Icky symptoms like high-grade fevers, chills, headaches, runny nose, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite and sore throat can sideline our children for days at a time. The flu also has the potential to develop into pneumonia – an infection of the lungs – without proper rest and care.
Thankfully, there’s plenty we can do as parents to keep our children from being one of the millions who get sick with the flu each year, starting with these six tips.
1. Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot. Making sure that your child and everyone who cares for him/her gets an annual flu shot is one of the best ways to help everyone stay flu-free. The influenza vaccine, which should be given every year to offer the most up-to-date protection, helps your child build up antibodies to the flu virus, protecting him from getting sick. Some children younger than 8 years of age will need two flu shots, one month apart, if this is their first year to receive flu vaccine.
2. Make hand hygiene a priority. Before and after eating, after playing on the playground, after using the restroom, after coming home from school, after touching your mouth or nose – hand-hygiene is one of the simplest and most effective ways to stop the spread of germs. Have your child use soap and warm water, and make sure he lathers up for about 20 seconds (or the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice). You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to keep little hands clean.
3. Beef up your child’s immune system. A strong immune system is a great defense against any type of illness, including the flu. To give your child’s immunity a boost, make sure he gets enough sleep at night (usually eight to 10 hours), eats a well-rounded diet full of fruits and veggies, and gets around an hour of physical activity each day.
4. Steer clear of other sick children as much as possible. When kids are in close quarters (on the bus, on the playground, in the classroom, in the locker room after practice), it’s easy to spread germs. And if your child does get sick, keep him home until he’s fever-free for at least 24 hours. Also, babies and the elderly are especially susceptible to the flu virus, so avoid any close contact with those populations, too, if your child gets sick.
If possible, try and keep your child away from other children that you know are sick.
5. Keep non-toxic disinfectant handy. Sometimes, as hard as we try, our kids still manage to become little magnets for germs. In addition to making sure their hands stay clean, it’s important make sure hard surfaces in your home or classroom stay germ-free as well. During cold and flu season, it’s a good idea to regularly disinfect countertops, doorknobs, hard and soft toys, bedsheets, backpacks, lunchboxes, desks and athletic equipment.
6. Follow respiratory etiquette. This means teaching your child to cough and sneeze into their elbow instead of their hands, and to follow the hand hygiene tips mentioned above after disposing of used tissues. While it’s important to keep your environment clean, respiratory etiquette is more important when it comes to preventing the transmission of the flu.
This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.