Your kids made it through the holidays without a cough or a bruise. With winter in sight for the foreseeable future — unless the famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicts otherwise — follow these tips to maintain your child’s good-health streak.
Prevent the Flu
There's still time to get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a flu vaccine for everyone at least 6 months old. The vaccine is tailored to a specific viral strain of the flu, so parents should get their kids vaccinated each year. "With nasal mist and smaller needles, dispensing the vaccine to kids is easier than before," Peter Elsea, MD, Cooley Dickinson Hospital-based pediatrician, said.
Just Got Home? Wash those Hands
Elsea knows parents encourage their kids to use alcohol-based hand gels. "This is a good first step, but when kids come home from school, remind them to wash their hands with warm water and soap," said Elsea. He recommends a quick face wash, too, "especially if a child has a runny nose."
The amount of sleep needed depends on a child's age, but research shows many kids don't get enough. For example, 10 to 11 hours per day is recommended for 7- to 12-year-olds. Elsea advises that parents help kids establish routines that encompass homework, extracurricular activities, and relaxation — without TV or screen time — before going to sleep."
In addition to adequate rest, parents and caregivers play an important role in making healthy choices for children and teaching children to make healthy choices for themselves. But in today's hectic world, Elsea knows this isn't always easy. According to Letsmove.org, First Lady Michelle Obama's initiative to raise a healthier generation of kids, five small changes can make a big difference: eat more fruits and veggies, consume less sugar and fat, eat healthier snacks, watch portion sizes, and eat together as a family.
It's important to stay active in the winter. And the outdoors offers an endless array of options. No matter what the activity, staying warm is essential. Elsea debunks the myth that 50 percent of a child's body heat escapes through the head. "Regardless, a hat is vital to any winter wardrobe." Consider these additional head-to-toe tips for fun and safe winter activities:
- Wear a helmet. A must for skiers and snowboarders
- Protect the eyes. Sun glare off snowy surfaces requires eye protection
- Avoid cotton shirts and socks. Thermal clothing is best, topped off with a
- Insulate the extremities — hands, ears, and feet — especially in younger children
- Create hand heat with mittens. Consider waterproof mittens
- Monitor winter play. Depending on their age, supervise kids who sled, tube,
or ice skate
Know When to Call the Pediatrician
No matter what time of year, kids get sick and are at risk for injury. Elsea says that the "vast majority of winter illnesses that include fevers are viral and do not need antibiotics." Call your pediatrician when your child has a fever, difficulty breathing, or is dehydrated. Watch for signs of low energy: parents know their child better than anyone.