Flu season is upon us. As the nights get shorter and the weather becomes colder, the risk of falling ill increases. On average, a child gets a cold eight times a year, which can last between five to seven days if the symptoms are mild but upwards of two weeks in small children with low immunity.
Both the cold and flu are highly contagious respiratory illnesses, however, the flu is worse in severity. Therefore, having strategies to prevent and handle the spread of infection are essential and cleanliness should be a fundamental part of our daily routine. However, how do we encourage our children to be hygienic? We have put together eight key behaviours to encourage, with links to educational resources that will help you and your child stay healthy this flu season.
Even from a young age, children can grasp the concept of bacteria on a basic level. There are several videos on Youtube, which can help you describe germs to your children. This video is one of our favourites as it is simple and informative, showing how bacteria can spread around a house. The pepper experiment is a useful technique to show how soap kills bacteria and can be replicated very easily at home.
In addition, it is helpful to teach young kids the vocabulary necessary to communicate if they are not feeling well and if they have any symptoms. Here is a video with useful English healthcare vocabulary. For videos explaining health concerns and germs in Chinese, Babybus is a useful resource.
Teach your child to cough or sneeze into their elbow or a tissue so that germs do not spread onto their hands. The dab, a popular dance move, is the same motion that children should use and was recently endorsed by the World Health Organisation as an effective method to stop the spread of germs. This video includes a song that will help your child get into the habit of using this motion. In addition, have spare tissues around so that children can get used to using them when needed.
The cold and flu are transmitted through the nose and eyes, therefore, teach your child to avoid touching their face as much as possible. If your child touches their face as a way to comfort themselves, such as sucking their thumb, try encouraging them to hug a stuffed toy instead. Stuffed toys have multiple benefits, but most importantly they can help soothe and relax children. In addition, make sure the toy is washed regularly and that they avoid putting the toy in their mouth.
Hand washing is arguably the most essential step in ensuring that you do not fall sick or spread germs. Demonstrate the correct way to wash hands to your child, using soap and hot water, for a minimum of 20 seconds. Then, positively reinforce this behaviour each time so that it becomes second nature. It is useful to create a routine, where children must wash their hands as soon as they arrive home from nursery or school and before they eat food. As a reference, happy birthday sung twice is the length of time you should encourage washing hands for.
Although sharing is a positive and social behaviour which should more often than not be encouraged, it is important children understand the appropriate contexts. For example, although it is generous to share food, children should not share food utensils or cups. This is especially relevant during flu season, and as a result of social distancing measures, so we all must be more cautious.
In addition, it is important that children get accustomed to socially distanced greetings as a precautionary measure. A fun alternative to hugs and kisses is an elbow bump, which is far more hygienic.
During flu season, it is important to look after your immune system by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and getting a sufficient amount of sleep. For healthy meal ideas that are suitable for children, we recommend using BBC Food, as they have a wide range of delicious and nutritious options!
In addition, it is important to wrap up warm. A thick jacket, hat, gloves and scarf can go a long way in keeping you healthy!
If necessary, consider getting your child the flu vaccine, especially if they have underlying health conditions. The flu vaccine is available for all children aged 2 to 11 years old in England, in the form of a nasal spray, and for younger children in instances where they are considered to be at-risk.
Finally, when children are sick it is better to let them rest and recover at home. If they have any of the symptoms of the flu, it is likely that they are contagious and could risk other children getting infected. If you are concerned over when is the best time to see a doctor, the NHS website has useful advice on when is appropriate.
Overall, we hope that everyone stays happy and healthy this winter during flu season! Please look after yourselves!
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