You don’t need us to tell you that the flu is no fun, especially for kids.
Symptoms like high-grade fevers, chills, headaches, runny nose, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite and a 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 you can do to help keep your child from being one of millions who get the flu each year, starting with these six tips.
- Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot. Making sure that your child and everyone who cares for him 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 the flu vaccine.
- Make hand hygiene a priority. Wash hands 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 “Happy Birthday” twice). You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to keep little hands clean.
- 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 between eight and 10 hours), eats a well-rounded diet full of fruits and veggies, and gets around an hour of physical activity each day.
- 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), 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.
- Keep nontoxic 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 to 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.
- Follow respiratory etiquette. Teach your child to cough and sneeze into his elbow instead of his 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.