The new school year has begun and our little ones are adjusting back to a routine, getting used to a different class, maybe a new teacher and friends.
Being back at school in close proximity to other children, coupled with moving into the autumn season (if you’re in the northern hemisphere) often means the start of colds, coughs, viruses and feeling run down.
My 5-year-old is happy to be back at school but I can tell already he is tired, run down and getting the sniffles. But thankfully, I am ready with the right tools to help him!
We all want our kids to be healthy and feel well, so it’s great to be armed with information to boost and maintain their immunity.
I’m passionate about adopting natural approaches to healthcare where possible. After trying different methods on my 3 boys, I have found that introducing the following 6 practices are the top ways to boost your kids’ immunity during winter.
Many of these are common sense suggestions that we all know are important (for ourselves as well as our kids) but we sometimes need to be reminded as it’s easy to let them slip!
1. Get the Right Amount of Sleep
Many paediatricians advise sleep to be the most important factor in healing, growing and keeping healthy. But as a society, kids and adults do not get enough. Here are some reasons why sleep should be a priority:
• Children’s brains are developing as they sleep – neurons and synapses are making connections
• Memory and learning is being solidified
• Growth hormone is being released which is why children grow most in their sleep
• Their brains are being bathed in a substance (part of the glymphatic system) whilst sleeping that helps to removes toxins
• The body and cells are actively repairing as your child sleeps
So, when children are sleeping so much is happening to support their health! It’s a crucial environment for building immunity. Here is a guide to the right number of hours your child should have each night. *
• 4-12 months – 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
• 1-2 years – 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
• 3-5 years – 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
• 6-12 years – 9 to 12 hours
• 13-18 years – 8 to 10 hours
*From the American Academy of Paediatrics
To help your kids get more sleep, start your bedtime routine earlier. See my previous blog post on having a smooth bedtime (7 Tips For a More Mindful Bedtime).
2. Teach Them How to Wash Their Hands
Keeping hands clean is a major way to prevent your child catching viruses and ingesting germs. It will also prevent passing these on within the family and home. This is the one consistent advice I always get from doctors.
We all tell our kids to wash their hands, but we need to make sure they are washing their hands PROPERLY.
I often take a sneak peak at my kids washing their hands and will catch them just putting their hands under the tap quickly without using soap, or pouring a huge amount of soap on their hands and putting them straight under the tap without actually cleaning anything! I recently had to introduce the ‘inspect and sniff test’, waiting outside the bathroom to smell their hands as they came out and make sure they were fully washed!
Show your kids how to scrub in between their fingers and finger nails, where germs are lurking. Try to get in the practice of washing hands when your children get home from school, before eating, after they’ve been out playing and after they blow their nose (that goes for mummies and daddies too!).
3. Stay hydrated
I have read we are achronically dehydrated society. My children are not great at drinking water, so I have set times when I try to make sure they get their intake. For example a glass first thing in the morning when they wake, straight after school and a little more before and after dinner.
My kids love a competition so sometimes we have water challenges where we fill up our water bottles and must drink two bottles a day. If they complete the challenge they get a treat.
Dr. Elisa Song, a Holistic Paediatrician has provided a formula to work out how much fluid your child should be drinking:
• Weigh your child in pounds
• Divide this by 2 and that gives you the number of ounces your child must drink a day.
So, for example, my 9-year-old weighs 70 pounds: 70 / 2 = 35 oz.
4. Introduce Rainbows into Your Food!
Eating a variety of different coloured fruit and veg is an excellent way to boost your kids’ immunity. Each colour provides different health benefits for the body, with different vitamins and nutrients.
We are encouraged to give our children 5 or more servings a day, but if you have fussy eaters like I do, here are some ways to get rainbows into their food:
• Make a homemade pasta sauce – I chop and sauté onion, garlic, carrot, butternut squash, peppers and courgette into my own homemade tomato sauce and then blend it all up to give it a smooth texture.
• Try out soups – Again, cook up a variety of veggies and blend it up into a soup. Try to steam the veggies or lightly cook to keep the nutrients alive. If your kids don’t like soup, you can add the fluid to a Bolognese sauce, cottage pie or chilli for an added taste!
• Experiment with smoothies – This is a fun one! Experiment with using different fruits and veggies. I use avocadoes and cashew nuts for a creamy texture
• Have fun juicing – I let my kids juice 2 apples, 1 carrot, a slice of raw beetroot and some ginger and lime a few times each week. The sweetness of the apples offsets the ginger. Sometimes I add a little spinach too. Its bursting with live enzymes and nutrients.
It’s a good idea to get kids used to having a variety of veggies on their plate, even if they don’t’ eat it. Or put the veggies on a separate plate in front of them so they get used to seeing, holding and touching these foods. Being persistent will pay off!
5. Supplement When Needed
Whether we like the idea of supplementing or not, what can’t be argued with is that the way food in farmed, processed and manufactured today means there are not the full range of nutrients our body needs in the modern foods we eat. Many foods are packaged and processed for our convenience because we cant grow and make everything from scratch ourselves.
After doing my own research and trying out different supplments, these are the following ones that I am happy to give my children and feel supports their health:
A high-quality vitamin and mineral (Dr Mercola, Solgar or Nature’s Aid Brand)
A vitamin D supplement in the winter time
Omega 3 – to support brain function and immunity (Nordic Naturals brand)
Probiotics – to support gut bacteria and immunity (goat or milk kefir as my children are not dairy sensitive)
Living in the northern hemisphere means that during winter months there is not enough sunlight for our children to get the required amount of vitamin D.
There are government and health service publications available to help you identify how much vitamin D you should give your children.
There is also the Healthy Start Programme which provides families with vouchers to buy vitamins and minerals. Natural sources of vitamin D include:
Salmon and oily fish (tuna and mackerel)
Cod liver oil
6. Reduce Sugar Intake
Recent research has shown that sugar can be harmful for your kids’ immunity. In as little as an hour after taking a sugary food, your body’s ability to fight infection is reduced by as much as 50%.
A study in the 1970s showed that sugar impacts your white blood cells by competing for space in those cells with Vitamin C. When Linus Pauling did research to find out how the body uses vitamin C, he discovered that white blood cells need vitamin C to destroy bacteria and viruses. Sugar and vitamin C are similar in their chemical structure. When you eat sugar, it directly competes for space in your immune cells with Vitamin C.
Sugar is very inflammatory on the body and so it’s a good idea to reduce your kids’ intake in the winter. It’s tricky as with Christmas celebrations and parties there tends to be a lot of sweets around. But it you can be mindful and opt for more healthy sweet foods like fruit salads, homemade oat bars etc. you will be helping and supporting your kids’ immune system.
On the flip side, if you give your child foods that balance their blood sugar such as nuts and protein, studies show this has a positive effect on mood, concentration and focus.
So I hope this information helps you this winter. Please share your own tips ands ideas in the comments below!