Whether your child is starting school for the first time or returning after the holidays, mixing with lots of other children will expose him or her to many more germs than there are at home. While you can’t prevent contact with all germs (and remember that exposure to some germs is a good thing), you can help reduce the risk of your child picking up an infection through healthy hygiene habits.
How do germs spread at school?
School children often pick up cold and flu viruses or tummy bugs that can lead to diarrhoea. These infections can spread very quickly from child to child by touching a contaminated surface. Germs also spread very quickly in the air via coughs and sneezes, as well as by eating contaminated food.
Why is good hygiene important?
Once your child becomes infected, germs can quickly spread to the rest of your family at home. Bouts of the common cold and upset tummies are common at the start of a new term – both in schools and families. So, helping your child understand about good hygiene will go a long way to helping them and the rest of your family stay healthy.
Avoid spreading cold and flu viruses
Although vaccinations can protect your child from some serious diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, injections cannot protect children from every type of harmful bacteria.
Top tips for good school hygiene
Many illnesses are spread through germs shared by touch. When one child wipes his runny nose and then touches a doorknob, pencil, or toy he leaves a trail of germs that can be picked up by the next child coming along. The importance of frequent and thorough handwashing cannot be emphasized enough.
Grooming their fingernails
Fingernails are a breeding ground for bacteria. The germs that live under a child’s nails are easily transferred to their eyes, nose, and mouth. Ensure that students fingernails are clipped every week and reduce the possibility of painful ingrown nails.
Proper brushing and flossing is a learned skill that can only be improved by practice. This type of oral hygiene needs to be instilled in students at an early age.
Advise your children to brush their teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, to prevent gum diseases and tooth decay.
Handkerchief is their best friend!
A handkerchief should be a child’s best friend. Children should be taught to cover their mouth and face, using either a handkerchief or a tissue, while coughing and/or sneezing. Used tissues should be properly disposed and not left around.
Keeping toys in the playroom germ – free!
A child’s favourite stuffed toy or blanket may carry germs and therefore should be regularly washed. Other toys could be wiped with a sanitizer and then allowed to air dry.
Cleaning of classroom furniture
Regular cleaning of classroom furniture will ensure a bug-free learning and teaching environment. Classrooms must be vacuumed and moped every day in order to prevent rodents.
Sweaty feet, also known as athlete’s foot can cause fungal infection. Advice your students to use cotton-lined socks instead of ones that are made of synthetic fibers along with wearing leather and canvas shoes, allowing their feet to breathe.
Dealing with illness
Advise children to only attend school if they are well enough to benefit and participate.
This will reduce any chance of illness spreading.
I protect my children every year against influenza by giving them the flu shot and I recommend you do the same for your family. This vaccination and other recommended childhood vaccines prevent many serious life-threatening illnesses. But don’t be surprised if your child still gets colds and stomach viruses as flu shots don’t protect against every sickness and it takes about two weeks for the flu shot to work.
Cover coughs and sneezes
Teach kids to cough and sneeze “like Dracula” does: into their elbow every time.
Nutrition and supplements
While scientists are looking closely at whether taking probiotics, vitamins C and D, zinc, garlic, and ginseng will help your child get sick less often, there is not yet enough clear evidence for me to be able to guide you toward any of these. What is clear is that a diverse and healthy diet will provide many of the ingredients being studied. Feed your children fruits, veggies, yogurt (containing active cultures), and fortified dairy products and they are likely to get these substances naturally. To read more about the work being done in this area start with this article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Another common sense approach to keeping your kids healthy is to ensure they get enough sleep. The positive benefits when kids get the recommended amount of sleep are numerous and research is being done to prove and explain the benefit to the immune system.
We know that less active kids get sick more often. When kids increase their activity level they are less likely to get respiratory infections. So keep your kids moving.
And while we are on this subject, exercising in the cold weather does not give you a cold. Quite the opposite! People tend to get more colds in the winter months because they spend more time indoors in close contact with each other and all those germs on doorknobs.
Kids whose parents smoke get sick more often than those whose parents don’t smoke. Talk with your doctor for help quitting.
If you are a pet owner, don’t worry about your pet’s germs; research is showing us that kids raised with dogs and cats tend to get sick less often than those raised without pets.
Stop bad habits
Remind students of the importance of practicing good hygiene. Explain that, although germs may not be visibly present, they are still found in air particles and can make them sick. Connect hygiene to illness by reminding them of the last time they were ill.