To be successful in learning, all kids, from newborns to school-aged children, need to stay healthy to process and focus on new information.  Parents can take several steps to keep their newborns and infants healthy, while those with school-aged children can teach their kids valuable skills that will prevent illness.  This is especially important as the new school year begins and kids are exposed to many viruses at once.

Regardless of age, one of the most important methods of prevention is good hand washing techniques.  My kids are notorious for running their hands under the water for three seconds, turning off the tap, and quickly wiping their hands on a towel as they run out of the bathroom to get back to playing.  Then, when I ask, “Did you wash your hands?”  They proclaim loudly that they did.  When I make them turn around and go back to do it properly, they protest “I did wash my hands!”  But then, they go and do it right.

It’s a learning process, but one that can in important in keeping kids healthy.

To wash our hands properly, we should rinse our hands with water and soap for at least twenty seconds, or the time it takes to sing the alphabet song.  If you have a newborn or infant, all caregivers should do this before touching the baby.  For children who are old enough to do this on their own, teach them how to wash correctly.  Try to clean the tips of the fingers especially well since children tend to put their fingers in their mouths often.

The most common way that we pick up germs or viruses is by touching surfaces that someone else who has been sick coughed on, sneezed on, or touched.  Then we end up infecting ourselves or our children.

This is especially true if you have more than one child.  Many parents notice how the younger sibling seems to get sicker at a younger age or perhaps more often than an older sibling did.  This is because the older child brings germs or viruses home from school or daycare and infects the younger child.

Some of the most common illnesses that can be avoided with good hand-washing include colds, flu, and vomiting/diarrhea illnesses.  If these illnesses occur for your child, it is important to help treat their symptoms so that they can recover more quickly and get back to being healthy.

Newborns especially are susceptible to catching viruses, so if your newborn is sick or has a fever, you should call your pediatrician for guidance.  Their immune systems are very immature and they are unable to fight off illness as well as we can.  Therefore, a newborn could be very ill and not show many symptoms other than being irritable or having a fever > 100.4 rectally.

Infants and toddlers who are sick can often be managed at home if they just have the sniffles and a little cough.  However, if they have high fevers (>104 F), prolonged fevers (more than 3 days), or significant cough, you should consult your child’s doctor.

For colds and flu, it is important to give your child plenty of fluids.  Food is not as important and your child may lose their appetite while sick.  Hydrating your child with age-appropriate fluids is important.  Running a humidifier in the child’s bedroom and having them sleep in a more upright position will ease nighttime congestion and cough.  Infants can be put in a swing or car seat to keep their heads elevated.  For older children, giving 1 teaspoon of dark honey can quiet coughing episodes.  Honey is not recommended for infants under the age of one due to the risk of botulism.  In general, over-the-counter cold medications are not recommended for children under the age of 6 years.  If your child has fever greater than 104, has prolonged fevers for more than 3days, or has a severe cough or seems lethargic, call your doctor.

When a child coughs and covers their mouth with their hand, the virus particles get all over that hand, allowing the illness to spread easily as they touch various surfaces.    To help keep from spreading germs, teach your child to cough into his or her elbow.  Use antibacterial hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available.  These are effective for killing the germs that can cause illnesses.

For vomiting and diarrhea illnesses at all ages, it is very important to prevent dehydration.  This can be done by giving small frequent sips of an electrolyte solution, such as Pedialyte®.  If your baby or child refuses to drink or cannot keep large amounts down, then give 5 mL every 5 minutes using a medicine syringe.  This can hydrate a child successfully and will not trigger more vomiting.

You should avoid giving juice or sports drinks because the excessive sugar in these liquids can result in worsening diarrhea.  Also, giving water alone does not provide enough of the salts and sugars that the body needs to function.

In a recent survey, 98 percent of moms could not identify all the signs of dehydration.  These include increased thirst, dry mouth, sunken fontanelle, doughy-feeling skin, decreased urine production, and lethargy or tiredness.  If your child shows signs of dehydration, call your doctor immediately.

Dehydration is entirely preventable if you have the right information.  I collaborated with the folks at Pedialyte to develop “Moms Stomach Flu Survival Guide,” available for download at www.pedialyte.com/survivalguide.  This handy guide includes essential information parents need to prepare for, help prevent, and help manage diarrhea and vomiting when these symptoms hit their home.

Take precautions and use these prevention methods for keeping kids healthy and active, from newborns to school-aged children.  Teach them to wash their hands often and avoid contact with other sick children when possible.  For newborns and young infants, everyone around them should take similar precautions to avoid giving them the viruses we carry.  By doing this, everyone can stay healthy and be ready for learning!

keeping kids healthyDr. Sandy Chung is a board-certified pediatrician practicing in Fairfax, Virginia, and mother of four wonderful children. She has been named as an America’s Top Pediatrician several years in a row and is on the teaching faculty of several medical schools in Washington, DC, and Virginia, including Georgetown University and Virginia Commonwealth University.  Dr. Sandy is President of Fairfax Pediatric Associates, and serves on boards and committees of several national, state, and local medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.  She is author of Dr. Sandy’s Top to Bottom Guide to Your Newborn: Answers to the Questions Every New Parent Asks, blogs valuable parent advice at drsandychung.blogspot.com/ and has written many articles for publications about keeping kids healthy, from newborns to school-aged children.