When children get sick, it’s hard for them and their parents. Watching a child struggle with illness is difficult, and when children are very young, they have a hard time articulating what they are going through and what they need. Avoiding sick days is a priority for most moms.
Fortunately, there are ways to help children stay well or to at least bounce back quickly when they do fall ill. Building a child’s immune system is the best way to keep them from getting sick every time they are near someone with germs.
The immune system is composed of tissues, organs, and cells. Together, they work to keep people healthy by attacking invading organisms that aren’t supposed to be in the body and can cause illness. Living an overall healthy lifestyle helps our immune systems function and perform their job to help keep us healthy.
There are also ways to boost a child’s immune system to help them stay in top shape, especially during flu season or the start of a new school year. Kids are exposed to new germs, and sometimes the onset of new routines or seasons makes this even more likely.
Boosting a child’s immune system to give them an extra edge over illness isn’t difficult. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and many of the things that boost the immune system are activities we should be taking part in regularly anyway. If parents make it a habit to practice immune-building activities, they may notice less sickness in their kids, and that’s a win for everyone!
15 Vitamin D
When people think of vitamin D, they tend to imagine the sun. It’s true that kids can absorb vitamin D from the sun, but since parents are encouraged to use sunscreen on their children and kids are prone to engage in indoor activities, it’s important not to depend on the sun alone for vitamin D.
It’s been recommended that children receive at least 400 IUs of vitamin D a day for immune building and bone health. When infants pass the age of one, they should take 600 IUs a day and ask a doctor if they can increase their dosage when ill.
There are also some foods that are high in vitamin D, but researchers are still encouraging parents to make sure their child takes a supplement since most people don’t consume enough of these foods to make enough of a difference.
If mom wants to know where her child stands on vitamin D absorption, she can ask her pediatrician for a blood test. Children who are often ill may need to find out if they are extremely low in vitamin D so they can take the proper dosage to help their immune systems.
14 Vitamin C
While we’re going through the alphabet, it’s important not to overlook vitamin C when hoping to achieve excellent immune function. Unless a child is drinking a very large amount of orange juice, it will be necessary for mom to make sure their child is getting vitamin C from a variety of sources.
The body does not produce vitamin C, nor does it store it. That means mom has to make sure her children are getting it from an outside source. Giving children a vitamin C supplement is an easy solution since they are easy to find and usually taste good. There are also plenty of tasty foods that are loaded with vitamin C, such as cantaloupe, mango, berries, pineapple, and of course oranges.
People with low vitamin C levels are more likely to suffer from illness, and it’s been shown that consuming vitamin C even after a person feels ill can help shorten the duration of the illness.
13 Washing Hands
While it’s true that parents don’t have to be clean freaks to keep their kids healthy, it is a good idea for parents to teach their kids how to properly wash their hands. Washing hands may be one of the best ways to keep kids from catching or spreading germs.
Children don’t think much of touching anything they come into contact with, and parents can’t stop them from putting their mouths on random surfaces or grabbing items in a store. However, germs can live on items long after the person who left them there is gone, and kids are known for putting their hands into their mouths, noses, and eyes, gateways for germs to enter the body.
Stress the importance of hand washing, especially before kids eat, and spend time showing kids how to wash hands. They should use water and soap and create a lather. To make sure they are washing long enough to remove germs, mom can have them sing the alphabet song.
The earliest way to build a child’s immune system is to breastfeed. Breastmilk contains antibodies, and babies desperately need those after birth. Because their immune systems are so immature, babies need the antibodies mom has to help them fight diseases she has been exposed to. As mom is exposed to new germs and her body creates antibodies to fight them, her baby will receive those through breastmilk.
Breastfeeding can also help a baby avoid developing allergies. There are so many benefits of breastfeeding that the Academy of Pediatrics believes every mom should breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months of their child’s life. Mom should continue to breastfeed as long as she and her baby are both okay with it.
Though not everyone can breastfeed exclusively for six months, breastfeeding at all is beneficial for baby’s immune system. Every little bit can help a child avoid diseases and infections.
Probiotics are fairly popular now that most people understand that good gut health means better overall health. Probiotics can help reduce inflammation in the gut, which is a good thing. Though it’s normal for inflammation to occur when the body needs to fight a virus, it’s not good for inflammation to be present all of the time in the gut.
Since probiotics are bacteria and yeast, they can help balance out the bad bacteria in the gut. By keeping everything in the gut in balance, better digestion is possible, as is a stronger immune system.
Probiotics are available as a supplement that can be purchased at most stores. However, there are also foods that are high in probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, and other fermented foods. Some moms make their own fermented foods at home, but they are available for purchase as well. As long as a pediatrician doesn’t object, even infants can take a powdered probiotic to help balance their guts early.
10 Less Sugar
Diet matters when it comes to the immune system. Parents should view food as medicine since what we eat affects how our bodies function.
Sugar is known to be addictive and very hard on the body. In fact, it even affects immune system function. When kids down a soda or eat a sugary snack, their immune system stops working to attack germs trying to enter the body. This suppressed response can last for hours, so if a child snacks on sugar all day, they can actually keep their immune system from performing its proper function. That means they are much more vulnerable to illness.
The best way to keep a child on a low sugar diet is for parents to be on one themselves. Leading by example in this area is important since kids learn more from what we do than what we say. So chunk the high sugar foods and grab better snacks for healthier kids.
9 More Plant-Based Foods
This recommendation goes along with a good diet. Choosing certain plant-based foods can help a child’s immune system, and with the creation of smoothies, sneaking some of these foods in isn’t even that difficult.
Kids should be encouraged to eat the rainbow and to fill their plates with bright carrots and strawberries, deep green kale, yellow squash, and some brown rice. These foods are good for the body, and children can develop a taste for them over time. In fact, it’s often easier to start children out with these plant-based foods so they will be used to them from the beginning. However, if a child refuses veggies when they are young, keep trying. Taste buds change over time, and kids who hated broccoli may suddenly develop a taste for it a year later.
Smoothies are also a great way to sneak green, leafy veggies into a child’s diet. By disguising the vegetables with the sweet taste of natural fruit, kids may drink a helping a day without knowing it.
8 Plenty of Sleep
Sleep is important for adults and children alike. Children need sleep for proper brain and body growth. They also need it for their immune systems to work as they should fighting disease.
Lack of sleep suppresses immune function, and that means the overly tired are more likely to get sick than those who rest the recommended amount each night. For parents, this means making sure their children get quality sleep each night and that they take naps during the day if they are still young enough to need them.
Since the amount of sleep a child needs is between 10-14 hours depending on their age, it’s important that sleep takes priority. As opposed to letting kids stay up until they are exhausted in the hopes that they will fall asleep easier, parents should make sure their children have a regular routine and that they go to bed before they are overly tired.
7 Stress Management
The American Psychological Association found that stress has an effect on our immune system, and it’s not a good one. Though short term stress has an effect on the body, it’s long term stress that causes problems for the immune system.
Even when all other factors were taken into account, researchers showed that those with higher stress were more likely to get sick. Though this study was done on adults, it’s applicable to children.
Thought it may seem that children have little to worry about, many of them suffer from stress. Children are diagnosed with depression and anxiety on a regular basis, and kids stress about things that are important to them, just like adults. If children have too much stress in their lives and they are emotionally distraught for a long period of time, parents can expect their kids’ health to suffer.
Teaching kids how to cope with stress is key. Showing them how to talk through their feelings is helpful, as is teaching them yoga or other calming activities.
6 Don't Fret Over Fever
When children are running fever, parents feel the immediate need to respond. Pressing a hand to a forehead and finding it warm or hot is horrible for a parent, and many will grab fever reducers to try to help their child. The problem is that when it comes to fever, in many cases it helps the immune system.
Researchers found that letting people with mild fevers ride it out enhanced the function of their immune system. The fever was actually a sign that the immune system was functioning properly and fighting disease. In fact, when a child’s temperature rises their immune system may actually be running in a more enhanced state.
This research was carried out studying mild fevers. If a child is running a high fever, mom should contact her doctor and give fever reducers as instructed. Fever can, in rare cases, lead to seizures, so riding out a fever is about using proper judgment to make the best decision. However, those mild fevers just may be a sign of the body working its hardest.
5 Ditch Antibacterial Soap
While teaching a child to wash their hands is a good idea, having them use antibacterial soap is not. New research shows that in our zeal to protect our children from every possible germ, we may have made them susceptible to long-term illness, the exact opposite of what we wanted to accomplish.
The ingredients in antibacterial products are now being blamed for superbugs, drug-resistant viruses that don’t respond to treatment. The reason? When no bacteria is allowed to come into contact with our children due to the use of antibacterial products, the immune system may freak out when harmless bacteria finally makes its way through. This can result in an increase in allergies and other illnesses.
Look at the immune system as a muscle that needs to be trained. Without exposure to bacteria, it can’t be. So throw out the antibacterial products and send the kids out to play in the dirt.
4 Eat the Right Fats
Not all fats are created equal, but good fats are a necessary part of any healthy diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for a variety of reasons, but one is that they can help immune cells function more effectively.
Omega-3 fatty acid can be found in certain fish, flaxseed, oils, and eggs. There are also supplements for children that can be easily swallowed. For younger children, chewable omega 3 is available that actually doesn’t taste awful.
White blood cells called B cells seem to benefit the most from omega 3. These cells are able to function more effectively when this particular fat is present. Omega 3 has also been known to lessen inflammation in the gut, another important part of immune health.
Omega 3s are recommended for individuals who suffer from a compromised immune system, but almost everyone can benefit from the immune support they offer.
3 Apple Cider Vinegar
For anyone who hasn’t heard, apple cider vinegar has superpowers. This versatile item is claimed to heal a variety of ailments, and many believe its probiotic powers make it gold for the immune system.
Apple cider vinegar is fermented and can be made at home or bought at the store. For immune building purposes, the best kind to purchase has what is called “The Mother” in it. That’s where the good bacteria are, and that’s what the immune system wants.
It’s important to discuss using apple cider vinegar with a healthcare professional before giving it to a child. Obviously, it’s very acidic, so drinking it straight is not the best idea for the teeth, and it can burn the esophagus if not diluted. Children don’t need near as much as adults, and this small addition to a child’s diet is said to help the immune system stay strong throughout sick seasons.
Kids need movement, and that’s a good thing. The problem is with technology and so much screen time, they don’t always stay active. They are tempted to sit instead, and that’s not good for their immune systems.
When we exercise, our antibodies move faster. That means they can find illnesses earlier, and hopefully this will lead to less sicknesses. Exercise also releases hormones that cause good feelings, and it helps us sleep better, both of which help the immune system.
Physical activity is responsible for a multitude of health benefits. However, too much exercise can actually have a negative effect. Those who exercise too much can actually suppress their immunity, so a person should listen to their body.
For kids, this isn’t much of a risk. They don’t tend to participate in extreme sports or over exercising. With children, the key is to keep them moving. Living a sedentary life is the cause of many health problems, and it can negatively affect the immune system.
1 Avoid Antibiotics
We’re lucky to live in a time when antibiotics are easily available for use when needed. Certain bacterial infections can be life-threatening without them. However, if used too often or for the wrong reasons, antibiotics can wreak havoc on our kids.
Since antibiotics kill all different kinds of bacteria, they can’t target only the cells that are making a child sick. Antibiotics instead wipe out many different bacteria, especially in the gut where 80% of the immune system is suspected of being. That means while doing their job, antibiotics are also hard on kids’ immune systems.
Antibiotics should not be used for viral infections that won’t respond to them. A doctor should always be consulted before antibiotics are used, and if there are natural ways to deal with an illness, those should be tried first.
If antibiotics are necessary, probiotics should be taken to help counter the effects. Children should take antibiotics as prescribed for best results.