St. Clair Hospital’s Top Tips On Keeping Children Healthy

St. Clair Hospital answers your questions on helping your child stay healthy. A child’s health is always top priority for parents and healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, illness is an inevitable part of childhood. Statistics say that parents can expect their children to suffer from eight to ten colds before their second birthday. After that, young children are likely to deal with six to eight colds a year.

According to Dr. Dayle Griffin, the medical director of St. Clair Hospital’s Pediatric Unit, parents often ask her why their children get sick as often as they do. Their next question for Dr. Griffin is often, “What can I do about it?” These are both excellent questions that we here at St. Clair Hospital are happy to answer.

Question 1: Why Do Children Get Sick So Often?

There are several key factors that contribute to children getting sick so often:

  • Their immune systems are still developing. Our immune systems are a cumulative barrier designed to protect our bodies from foreign invaders. As adults, our immune systems have had years to create antibodies that protect us from illnesses. Children, however, do not have as many antibodies as adults do. Without antibodies, children develop illnesses and symptoms more often. Fortunately, with time, a child’s immune system will mature. This is why so many children seem to grow out of their health problems!
  • Children can be exposed to numerous germs during their day. Think about children during their school day. During a day at school, children sit close together, share desks and writing utensils, and breathe air that circulates within a fairly confined space throughout the day. This environment creates more opportunities for children to be exposed to germs. And without a fully developed immune system, children are more likely to get sick.
  • Children aren’t always as strict about hygiene as adults. Children are less likely than adults to consider hygiene’s role in keeping them healthy. For example, if someone coughs onto a shared desk at work, they may quickly disinfect it as a courtesy – while a child is more likely to keep working on their classwork. And every parent is likely familiar with the struggle of making sure their child always washes their hands!

Each of these factors contributes to the risk of a child getting sick, and results in children getting sick fairly often – much to the worry and sometimes frustration of their parents.

Question 2: What Can Parents Do To Keep My Child Healthy?

As difficult as it is to make a good habit stick, the best thing a parent can do for their child is continuously work with them to help prevent the spread of germs. While germs cannot always be avoided, acts of prevention can reduce the chance of them making a child sick. Parents are especially recommended to use the following action steps throughout the year:

  • Encourage frequent hand washing. Hand washing is the easiest and most effective way to prevent illness. The CDC has even described it as a do-it-yourself vaccine. Parents should always remind children to wash their hands before eating, after going to the restroom and after playtime with other children.
  • Teach their children to cough or sneeze into the crook of their elbow. Coughing or sneezing into an arm or elbow can help reduce or prevent the spread germs via handshakes and similar actions. Parents should encourage children to use this trick whenever possible.
  • Never share eating or drinking utensils. Sharing cups, forks, spoons, and other utensils is a particularly effective way for germs to get directly into a child’s body. Encouraging kids to only use their own utensils will help protect them from this source of germs.
  • Remind children to keep their hands away from their face. Since hands are often covered in germs, children and adults alike should avoid touching their mouth, nose or eyes. Parents should also remind children to avoid putting objects like pens and pencils into their mouths.
  • When the time comes, get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu shots for children 6 months of age and older. With a flu shot, children are more likely to be protected from annual flu strains – or, if they do catch the flu, their symptoms are likely to be less severe.

Unfortunately, there is no easy or foolproof way to keep children from getting sick. The best we can do is consistently and continuously work with children on developing strong healthy habits that will help protect them from germs. With time and these good habits, children will build a stronger immune system and will likely stop getting sick as often – a fact that many concerned parents definitely look forward to!