|||||||About the Author|
Melissa Weekes is a Product Development Specialist. Prior to joining Great Kids® in 2018, she worked as a home visitor with Public Health Services where she used the Growing Great Kids® Curriculum. Melissa lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with her husband and enjoys any opportunity to be creative!
This morning I woke up with a dull headache and to the sound of icy rain beating against the window. It’s the kind of dreary, low-energy day that makes you want to opt-out, roll over in bed, and pull the covers up. Ugh.
But then that small, somewhat squeaky, responsible adult voice kicks in, and you haul yourself out of bed to face the day…because that’s what adults do. And if you’re like me, you pull up your optimism and gratitude like a pair of well-worn, fallen-down socks on the skinny legs of a first grader and adjust your attitude like a wayward necktie.
Because that’s what ADULTS do.
But kids, not so much.
If you care for a child, you’ve likely experienced days when they wake up sick and generally not themselves. You know the kind of day I’m talking about. You accidentally miss a minor step in the child’s routine (which they normally wouldn’t notice), but on this day, it results in an epic meltdown. Or you end up spending the day comforting an out-of-sorts toddler that won’t let you put them down, not even for half a millisecond.
These kinds of days can be challenging for adults and kids alike, but they can also be part of the journey to building strong immune systems in young children. I was interested to learn that babies aren’t born with fully functioning immune systems.9 It’s not until after birth that a child’s immune system really starts to develop through gradual exposure to germs.1,9
And sometimes, it can seem that kids are constantly catching a bug. According to pediatricians, it’s normal for children to experience more illnesses during the first year they’re around other kids, with the frequency usually declining in the second year.1 So, for those of you nursing a child with another cold, you might take a little comfort in knowing that over time their immune system is developing a “memory” that will last them into old age.9
Thankfully, no matter our age, there are some things we can do to boost our immune system. These include:
- Eating a variety of nutritious foods.6,8
- Our immune system can function more effectively when we give it the fuel it needs to fight off illness. If anyone in your family is a picky eater, talk to your healthcare provider about different options that might work for you.
- If you have an infant and are able, breastfeeding is a great way to kick-start a developing immune system.4
- Getting enough sleep.6,8
- This includes establishing healthy bedtime routines such as limiting screen time before bed (yes, this applies to us adults, too!).6
- Getting outside and being active.6,8
- If you’re not sporty like me, this can be as simple as taking a walk or going to the park with your child or family.6 These are excellent ways to get moving and enjoy a boost of vitamin D.
- Following your health care provider’s recommendations around checkups and immunizations for your family.2,6,8
- Practicing good hygiene, such as handwashing and coughing into your elbow.2,6
- Getting a pet!3,5,7
- *Disclaimer – Don’t get a pet unless you’re really ready for a pet…BUT, studies have shown that being around animals such as dogs, cats, and farm animals can support children’s immune systems.3,5,7
- Reducing stress.6,7
- We’ve all experienced times when we’ve been stressed, and our immune system has taken a dive. Unhealthy stress that continues unchecked can affect our immune system long term.7
- Reducing stress for children can look like giving them the support they need, and protecting them from overstimulation and overscheduling.7 Kids need downtime too.
On days when our family members or we aren’t feeling the best, one way we can reduce the stress is to downscale our to-do lists and go with the flow. There’s no way you’ll ever get that enormous pile of laundry done and keep your sanity with a sick toddler attached to your hip. And you may not get that report written for work the way you’d hoped.
So, take a deep breath, and give yourself permission to take care of yourself or just BE with your child as much as possible. Not only will you be reducing your family’s stress, but you’ll be boosting everyone’s immune system, too.
1. American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Early Childhood. (2022, December 6). When to keep your child home from child care. Healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/work-and-child-care/Pages/when-to-keep-your-child-home-from-child-care.aspx
2. Caring for Kids. (2021, August). Colds in children. https://caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/health-conditions-and-treatments/colds_in_children
3. Fall, T., Lundholm, C., Örtqvist, A. K., Fall, K., Fang, F., Hedhammar, Å., Kämpe, O., Ingelsson, E., & Almqvist, C. (2015). Early Exposure to Dogs and Farm Animals and the Risk of Childhood Asthma. JAMA pediatrics, 169(11), e153219. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3219
4. Government of the Province of British Columbia. (2021). Baby’s best chance: Parents handbook of pregnancy and baby care (7th ed.). HealthLinkBC. https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/sites/default/files/documents/babys-best-chance.pdf
5. Havstad, S, Wegienka, G, Zoratti, E. M., Lynch, S. V., Boushey, H. A., Nicholas, C., Ownby, D. R., & Johnson, C. C. (2011). Effect of prenatal indoor pet exposure on the trajectory of total IgE levels in early childhood. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 128(4), 880–885.e4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2011.06.039
6. McCarthy, C. (2021, October 12). Boosting your child’s immune system. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/boosting-your-childs-immune-system-202110122614
7. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2020). Connecting the brain to the rest of the body: Early childhood development and lifelong health are deeply intertwined: Working paper no. 15. Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. www.developingchild.harvard.edu
8. O’Leary, S. (2022, September 21). 5 ways to help your kids have a healthy school year. Healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/school/Pages/back-to-school-tips-to-help-kids-have-a-healthy-year.aspx
9. Simon, A. K., Hollander, G. A., & McMichael, A. (2015). Evolution of the immune system in humans from infancy to old age. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 282(1821), 20143085. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.3085