Don’t you just love the winter holiday season? So much fun family time, so many joyful celebrations, so much cozy togetherness. And with all that quality social time comes a gazillion opportunities to share germs. That’s why all mamas (really, everyone) need some good hacks on how to NOT get sick over the winter, so we can protect ourselves and our kiddos.
As someone who just spent the entire week of Thanksgiving all but flat in bed with a nasty virus that just won’t quit, trust me: you do NOT want to be sick over the holidays! Nor do you want your kids to be sick! It’s no fun when you (or they) have to miss out on those special holiday activities because someone is under the weather. And think of what having to keep a sick kid home from school can do to your holiday vacation plans for time off from work.
If you don’t want to go there, make sure you’ve got all these hacks covered as part of your holiday/wintertime preparations.
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How To NOT Get Sick This Winter
Make Sure Everyone Gets Their Flu Vaccination!
Flu season is here, and forecasts suggest it’s going to be worse than ever. People have already died in the United States due to flu this season, including two children. Last year roughly 80,000 Americans died from the flu, including 172 children. (4/5 of those kids skipped flu shots.)
Having the flu is miserable. Imagine being wiped out for days, or even weeks. Or imagine missing all that work to care for a sick child. Imagine helping your child catch up from all that missed schoolwork. Imagine the impact on their grades, their chances of promotion to the next grade, their extracurriculars. (Not to mention your own chances of promotion, family vacation plans, etc. if you have to use up all your personal/sick days on the flu.)
And when someone skips the flu shot, it’s not just themselves they’re putting at risk. Those who get the shot are less likely to get the flu, which means they’re less likely to spread it to others. Think about the other kids your children spend time with each week. Think about the newborn baby down the street, who can’t get a flu shot and could die from this illness. Think about elderly relatives you might see over the holidays, who are also more likely to die from the flu even if they do get their shots. When someone doesn’t get a flu shot, it compromises everyone they come into contact with.
If you have health insurance, you can probably get flu shots for free at your doctor’s office or your kids’ pediatrician. Or check your nearest pharmacy, which will offer them either free or for a small fee. The small cost of a flu shot is totally worth it compared to how much time the flu will take out of your life.
Eat A Balanced Diet, Including Probiotics
Eating well and being properly hydrated at this time of year can be a massive benefit. When you make sure to get enough fruits and veggies as well as protein, whole grains, and calcium, your body will be in better shape to help you fight off infection. Staying properly hydrated will also help your body flush out toxins more effectively.
It’s tempting at the holidays to eat lots of sweets and drink too much alcohol. Occasional indulgences are OK, as long as you’re not going overboard, indulging too often, or skipping out on healthier foods to “save up” calories for those unhealthy binges. So DON’T skip meals before the big holiday dinner or party. Eat extra-healthy before you go, so you’ll be filled up on healthier options and not get so hungry. And don’t let your exercise routine suffer because of end-of-year business or the instinct to stay home and hibernate.
Another way you can give your immune system an extra boost is by making sure you consume foods that are probiotic-rich, like yogurt or kimchee. Foods containing probiotics can help your whole family, especially your kids, to stay healthy and strong. Probiotics are all about having a healthy gut, and when you have a healthy gut, the microbes in your gut can be healthy. These microbes can play a part in building a healthy immune system, so it’s important to take care of them. Exposing them to the healthy organisms in probiotics is one way you can do this.
Keep Everything Clean
Encouraging our children to be as clean as possible will help them remain healthy throughout the winter. If your kiddos usually take baths, make sure you get the bathroom nice and steamy for them. Or encourage them to try steamy showers for the winter months.
When you’re sick or have cold-like symptoms, the hot steam from showers can help drain blocked noses, ease sore throats, and lessen congestion. Keeping sinuses drained can not only relieve cold symptoms, but it can also help prevent sinus infections for those who are prone to them! Another option is using saline nose sprays or nasal washes. Because Essie and I are prone to sinus infections, the allergist has recommended we use these whenever we’re getting a little congested. This helps our sinuses stay cleaned out, so infections don’t start brewing.
Think not just personal hygiene, but also keeping your home clean in the winter. Whenever one of us gets sick, I go around multiple times a day wiping down door knobs and handles with cleaning wipes. This helps to minimize the chances that the sick person is sharing their germs with the rest of us!
And as you’re prepping all that food for holiday guests, make sure your kitchen is clean enough for the task. You DON’T want your guests getting sick from your food! So keep your kitchen germ-free with colour-coded boards to make food prep safer. Microwave damp sponges for a minute (or run them through the dishwasher) regularly so they don’t harbor germs. And of course, make sure you’re regularly swapping out those dishtowels for clean ones (at least once a day for us). And keep those countertops clean with antibacterial wipes or sprays as often as needed (again, usually at least once for every meal you prep).
This is an important tip for kids of all ages. Sharing is nice; sharing germs, not so much.
You may need to be extra-vigilant during playdates, so your infant doesn’t lick a toy before handing it to a friend (or vice versa). If you’ve got toddlers or preschoolers, continue practicing this skill with them. Remind kids of all ages not to share their drink cups with their friends. For school-age kids up through teenagers, also remind them not to share utensils/bottles/cans with friends. Also remind them that they need to use a cup, rather than glugging from the bottle in the fridge.
Yes, these may seem overly basic. But every little reminder to keep our germs separate from others’ can help keep our families healthier this winter. And it takes awhile for these lessons to sink in with kids. Especially when we spend so much time teaching them that it’s good to share other things (like toys) with friends. When it comes to germs, DON’T share. Period.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Getting plenty of sleep is another key step to keeping our immune systems strong. Without enough sleep, our immunity will get run down, and we won’t have the energy to fight off germs. When we are well-rested, we also feel less sluggish and make better choices about what we eat and drink. (Ever notice how when you’re tired, you can sometimes crave lots of carbs, sugars, and/.or alcohol?)
You may think your kids are getting plenty of sleep. But if you find you often have to wake them for school, rather than them waking naturally, this should be your first clue that they’re not. Getting enough quality sleep is something I’ve researched way too much as a parent, as it’s been a challenge for my kiddos at times. So if you and yours aren’t getting enough shut-eye, then check out my hacks for better sleep here, here, and here.
Practice Basic Hygiene (and teach your kids, too!)
Proper hygiene, starting with basic handwashing, can do more than anything else to keep everyone healthy. (Except maybe the flu shot!) And I’m talking more than just reminding your newly-diaperless ones to wash their hands after using the toilet.
Emphasize appropriate hand washing WHENEVER it’s needed. This means soap plus warm water, lathering for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” through twice (about 20-30 seconds), including backs of hands and under fingernails. Wash hands
- before eating;
- before preparing or serving food;
- right after blowing your nose;
- right after touching money;
- before touching your eyes or nose (better yet, try to avoid touching them!);
- right after sneezing or coughing, if you covered your mouth with your hand. (Better practice: Use the inside of your elbow, and teach your kids to do the same.)
Other good practices to teach your kids:
- Especially in public, avoid touching door handles, faucet handles, etc. Use paper towel or your sleeve to turn off the water and open the door. Use your elbow on the handle of the paper towel dispenser.
- If your nose is drippy, BLOW IT with a tissue! Then throw the tissue away – don’t leave it lying around!
- Always cover your mouth before sneezing/coughing, preferably with the inside of your elbow.
- If you must put your hands near your eyes/nose, wash hands immediately after.
- Always dry hands well to help prevent chapping. If they get dry and chapped anyway, use moisturizing cream. (I like Cetaphil and CeraVe for the girls, because they don’t irritate Essie’s eczema-prone hands. For my own hands, I love Working Hands.)
Doing all these things consistently (and getting your kids to do them, too!) should help you all avoid getting sick!
What are your best tips for how to NOT get sick this winter? Let us know in the comments!
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