How to Keep Your Toddler Healthy This Flu Season

a mom taking her toddler's temperature

Cold and flu season can be a difficult time for moms and kids alike. Whether you or your toddler get sick, it can throw your regular schedule off balance and lead to a lot of sleepless nights and a long recovery – no matter who actually comes down with the illness. How can you help your toddler stay healthy during a time when colds and the flu are so prevalent? We’ve put together some practical advice to help you stay as far away from coughs, runny noses, fevers and congestion as possible.

Get everyone vaccinated for the flu

The flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee almost-perfect protection against this potentially serious illness the way that vaccines for many other ailments do. The activity of different types of the flu and individual differences in terms of health mean the vaccine is usually between 40 and 60 percent effective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. However, the flu vaccine is also pretty cheap, widely available and quickly given. The more people in a household and a larger community who are vaccinated, the better this method of prevention works.

While it may be a struggle to get your little one to sit for a shot, a few moments of mild discomfort – which you can follow with a well-earned reward – is far better than days on end of potentially dangerous flu symptoms. Your child might even be able to get the vaccine as a nose spray, reducing any objections on their part. As you ensure your toddler is prepared for flu season, make sure you, your spouse, your older children and anyone else who lives with you get the vaccine, too. The CDC recommends vaccination for all healthy people older than six months.

Child washing hands.Encouraging your toddler to wash their hands is one of the most important parts of cold and flu season safety.

Encourage good hygiene habits

Good hygiene is one of the best ways to keep you and your child healthy. What can you teach, encourage and remind your toddler to do during cold and flu season to reduce the risk of catching a nasty bug?

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds: Tell your kid to sing the Happy Birthday song twice while washing to make sure they hit 20 seconds, and join in to help them learn a great habit. Bring along hand sanitizer and wipes for when you don’t have easy access to soap and warm running water.
  • Don’t share silverware, plates or cups: Some bacteria and viruses can survive for extended periods outside human bodies, and they’re easy to pick up when eating. To avoid accidentally sipping from someone else’s cup, put them in the dishwasher immediately after use.
  • Cover mouths when sneezing or coughing: Sneezes and coughs are one of the best ways to spread germs. Teach your toddler to sneeze and cough into a tissue, or use the inside of their elbow if no other option is available. Encourage them by following the same behavior.
  • Avoid crowded places: Lots of people in relatively small places mean plenty of potential for exposure. You shouldn’t avoid other people completely, but limit exposure and encourage hand washing afterward.
  • Discourage touching eyes and noses: Bacteria thrives on hands, so when your toddler rubs his eyes or picks his nose, he’s putting germs into vulnerable areas. Show them how to use tissues to wipe their eyes and noses or to wash hands before touching their faces. It can take a long time for your toddler to learn this type of behavior, but it’s still worth it to teach them.
  • Eat, play and sleep well: Exercise, a balanced, nutrient-rich diet and a good night’s sleep all help boost the immune system.
  • Avoid sick friends and family: Help protect your toddler by talking with family and other parents about keeping your distance from kids and adults who are already sick.
  • Praise good behavior: Let your toddler know what a good job they’re doing each time you see them complete a task on this list, and provide plenty of reminders, too.

Treating symptoms

Treating colds is often a waiting game that focuses on reducing the discomfort caused by symptoms. You can help your toddler by encouraging rest and relaxation and providing lots of fluids. Use age-appropriate medicine to treat symptoms like sore throats and fevers. If symptoms don’t start to calm down in a few days or you see the telltale signs of a flu – sudden onset, severe exhaustion, achy head and body and reduced appetite, KidsHealth said – get in touch with your family doctor.

Cold and flu season requires some extra attention and care, but following these tips can help you and your kids stay healthy.