We’re halfway through winter and us parents are paying much more attention to our children’s immune systems this year than we have in the past…

A strong immune system gives your child a fighting chance at beating off bugs, whether it’s this year’s flu, a cold, or something more serious.

But besides whizzing up some fresh orange juice and making sure they eat their greens, what non-food steps can you take to boost their immune systems this winter?

1. Boost their sleep

Over lockdown your children may have fallen into bad sleeping habits – going to sleep later than usual, as there was no school to be up early for. But getting enough sleep is super important for young people, both in terms of their brain development, and keeping their immune systems strong. Sleep deprivation has been shown* to reduce the release of proteins in your body called cytokines, and these are what your body needs to fight infection or inflammation.

2. Keep them exercising

No doubt your kids are really missing their weekly soccer practice at school, the cricket tours they had planned for this year, or the dance recitals they were training for. When we were all confined to our houses during Level 5 lockdown, the only exercise available to your kids was what you could do in your homes, but now that things have opened up slightly, there are more options. If your child doesn’t like a run around the block with you, then get them riding bikes, or kicking a ball on an open field nearby.

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3. Limit germ spread

I’m sure your children have never washed their hands more than they have this year, and that’s one positive thing to come out of 2020 – them learning to be more hygienic. If they’re back at school, they should obviously wash their hands every time they return home, but it’s also about washing hands before every meal, after touching pets, or playing in the garden. Of course, having the annual flu jab and ensuring that your children are up to date with all their vaccinations is also very important. Your medical aid may offer the flu vaccine as part of your cover, like Fedhealth does with their screening benefit.

4. Reduce stress

This is easier said than done – the world is a very stressful place right now, and your children are no doubt dealing with a lot of change. Communication is key, bearing in mind that any unusual behaviour on their part may not be because they are intentionally being naughty, but more because they are unable to articulate their anxieties. Encourage them to speak about why they are sad (they miss their friends, they miss playing rugby etc.), and also suggest some mindfulness or children’s meditation exercises – as these will give them useful tools to deal with their stressors.

WATCH: Helping your children deal with stress in their ‘new normal’

5. Limit exposure to second-hand smoke

This comes down to you Mom or Dad! If you’re a smoker, you need to try and stop smoking, but if you can’t, then you need to limit your children’s exposure to second-hand smoke. Cigarette smoke irritates important cells in the body and unfortunately children are more susceptible to the damage caused by this smoke. Problems caused in children by the inhalation of second-hand smoke include frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections and ear infections, among others**.

Following just a few of these tips should hopefully boost their immune systems and improve your chances of getting your kids through the rest of winter – and seeing them safely out on the other side.

Sources:

*https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757#:~:text=Yes%2C%20lack%20of%20sleep%20can,if%20you%20do%20get%20sick.

**https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/health_effects/index.htm#:~:text=Secondhand%20smoke%20causes%20numerous%20health,infant%20death%20syndrome%20(SIDS).&text=Smoking%20during%20pregnancy%20results%20in%20more%20than%201%2C000%20infant%20deaths%20annually.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.