Keep the bugs away throughout the school year with this germ-fighting and immune-boosting advice.

By Jennifer Benjamin
Updated September 06, 2018
kids at school laughing being healthy
Credit: Hero Images/Getty Images

When my twins were little, it was pretty much a guarantee that we would bring home whatever nasty virus was making its way through the preschool. Roseola? Yep, got it. Hand, Foot and Mouth? We got it twice. Stomach bugs and cold bugs and strange coughs? We got them all! As my kids got older though, we were able to enforce healthier habits, like consistent hand washing, keeping their fingers out of their mouths, and not sharing foods (like, oh, popsicles) with their friends. Now that they’re firmly in elementary school, they know to blow their nose with a tissue, cough into their elbows, and eat healthy foods, all of which prevents them from sharing germs, as well as picking them up themselves. Still, I wanted to make sure I had all of my sickness-blasting bases covered, so I spoke to a couple of pediatricians to find out their best methods for keeping kiddie illness at bay.

Give Their Diet Some Color

Many fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients like Vitamin C and carotenoids, which can help boost your child’s immune system, explains Katie Friedman, MD, a Hollywood, Florida-based pediatrician and co-founder of Forever Freckled. The more vibrant and colorful the produce, the more nutrients they have! So load your mini’s lunchbox with juicy berries, red peppers, and carrots, which will boost their infection-fighting white blood cells and interferons.

Pack a Water Bottle

Wanna know one of the grimiest, germiest places on the playground? The school water fountain. To ensure they avoid the whole thing, send them to school with plenty of water. “Not only can they bypass the germs of the water fountain, but it’ll keep them hydrated and healthy as well,” says Dr. Friedman.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

We all know that sleep can be the best medicine, but it can ward off illness as well. “I always tell my parents to make sure their kids are getting at least 10 hours of sleep a night to keep them healthy and strengthen their immune system,” says Tanya Altmann, MD, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and author of Baby and Toddler Basics. “Every half hour of sleep that you lose, gets stored as sleep deprivation, which diminishes your immune system.” While a consistent bedtime is ideal, Dr. Altmann admits it’s not always realistic, so she recommends using the weekends to catch up on sleep. She also suggests that parents try to streamline their morning routine to a half hour, which may allow your kids to sleep a little later.

Sneak in Elderberry Syrup

Have you heard of elderberries? According to Dr. Friedman, they have several different health benefits, one of which is to strengthen the immune system and fight off flu-like symptoms. “They’re rich with anthocyanins, pigments that have been shown to boost the production of immune cytokines, which defend against disease and illness,” she explains. “They also contain a potent antiviral agent called antibirin which prevents viruses from invading cells, as well as replicating, so it shortens the time you may suffer from the symptoms of a virus.” Dr. Friedman recommends making the elderberries into a syrup, so you can sneak the good stuff in with their breakfast. Try her recipe for Elderberry Pancake Syrup.

Teach Them Not to Touch Their Faces

If you attached a GoPro to a germ, it’s easy to see how kids get sick so darn much. A kid coughs into his hand, his hand touches a door knob, your kid hand touches the doorknob, and then she rubs her nose. Germ has now gone from sick kid’s face to your healthy kid’s face, with the help of their dirty hands. “I try to emphasize the importance of trying their best not to touch their face at all," ays Dr. Altmann. "That means don’t rub your nose, touch your eyes, or your mouth.”

Have Them Wash Their Hands Before Eating Anything

Obviously, you know that hand-washing is key to keeping your kids healthy (especially in light of that whole face-to-hand germ-spreading connection). While they may remember to wash their hands after using the bathroom, they may not always think to do it before they eat, especially at school. Again, when they eat, they’re bringing whatever germs they’ve picked up on the playground to their food, which is then going in their mouth. Of course, you can insist on it at home, but you’ll also want to suggest they always, always, always wash their hands, or at least use hand sanitizer, before snack and lunch.

Talk to Your Pediatrician About Supplements

It’s tough to remember to take your vitamins, but giving them to your kids (if your pediatrician is on board) can help the whole family avoid illness. “Research shows that kids who take a daily probiotic have fewer fevers during the winter and miss fewer days of school,” says Dr. Altmann. “Also, getting enough immune-boosting Vitamin D can help.” It’s tough to get it through diet alone, so she recommends that kids take a daily 1000 IU supplement as well. Since every child is different, be sure to check in with your pediatrician before adding supplements to your child's diet.