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A Parents’ Guide to Surviving Cold and Flu Season

This article is sponsored by All Women’s Healthcare.

Winter with kids is amazing! Snuggling, drinking hot chocolate, building a snowman, it’s all so magical…until the first cold of the season hits your household. What starts as a runny nose can soon turn into an all-out epidemic that leaves everyone house-ridden and miserable. But there are steps that can help keep the damage to a minimum.

“When you’re inside with the heat on, you’re in close quarters and you’re coughing at each other,” says Dr. Victor Almeida, Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, New Jersey. “That’s how viruses are spread.”



Prepare now and protect your family with these 10 tips that’ll help everyone stay healthy:

1) Get into a Hand-washing Groove

The simplest way to prevent the spread of germs is also the most effective. “There’s nothing like a little soap and water,” says Almeida, “and washing your hands for 15 to 20 seconds would be optimal.”

2) Keep the Hand Sanitizer Handy

It’s not as good as old-fashioned soap and water, but it will do in a pinch. Just make sure that kids don’t use it without your supervision. A quick lick of the hand and your child will be fine, but ingesting two or three squirts could land him in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning.

3) Get your Flu Shot

Put simply, the flu is a big deal. Not only will it take you out of commission for a while, but as Almeida says: “People who get influenza [can] die from it.” While a healthy person should be able to fight the infection, you have to remember that not everyone is healthy. “The clear benefit is with those patients who are at risk—the very young, women who are pregnant, people who are over 65 and those who are immunocompromised,” explains Almeida. “The virus is spread through healthy people, so if you immunize them, you have herd immunity.”

4) Sneeze and Cough The Right Way

Translation: Not all over someone else, not straight into the air and not into their hands. Instead, teach them to aim for the crook of their arms so that germs are somewhat contained.

5) Disinfect Surfaces

During cold and flu season, your house is basically a petri dish. The biggest problem? “A sneeze ends up on inanimate objects,” says Almeida. “It’ll be on the doorknob or the tabletop. If you touch those things, there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll get the virus.”

6) Teach Kids Not to Touch Their Eyes, Nose or Mouth

You’re going to feel like a broken record, especially with the preschool-and-under set, but it’s worth it. Keep germy hands away from those entry points on the body to decrease contagion.

7) Build Healthy Eating Habits

At this time of the year, we tend to hear about the benefits of zinc and vitamin C. We also hear a lot about “superfoods,” like sweet potatoes, blueberries, dark leafy greens and omega-3-rich fish, that can strengthen your immune system. They’re all good additions to a well-rounded diet, provided your picky eaters will actually eat them.

8) Get your ZZZZZ’s

Building on Almeida’s aforementioned advice, sleep does a body good. In fact, studies show that kids and adults are much more susceptible to colds when they don’t get enough of it. So how much is enough? For you, a minimum of 6 hours, but ideally more than 7. For kids, it varies by age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 14-17 hours for infants; 11-14 hours for toddlers; 10-13 hours for preschoolers; and 9-11 hours for school-age children.

9) Don’t Share

As a parent, you’ve probably never uttered those words. But if you have multiple children and only one is sick, try to keep their toys separate, and do your best to keep babies at a safe distance from sick older siblings.

10) Before a Play Date, Ask if your Child’s Playmate is Sick

You might not want to be that parent…but go ahead and be that parent. After all, a moment of potential crazy-mom embarrassment and a canceled afternoon get-together can save you from a month of sickness as a child’s cold infects your entire household.