Credit to Vitolda Klein

Not gonna lie, I’m coughing and blowing my nose like mad while even typing this. I’ve been sick for more than a month now (one after another!) and the only saving grace has been that my kiddo isn’t sick.

This time. LOL. We all know falling sick is pretty much written in the job description of being a child.

Couple of weeks ago I read a pediatrician say that parents should expect their kids to get “between seven and 11 colds a year,” with each one lasting about two weeks.

That’s 22 weeks out of a 52-week year. So our kids are expected to be sick 50% of the time?! 

So I decided, you know, with school reopening soon and all, to research ways to boost my child’s immunity, especially in this Covid-19 season. You know, this onnnnnnnnnngoing Covid season.

Kids under 12 don’t get the Covid-19 vaccine, don’t wear masks here, and schools are allowed to be open as usual, which means “Back to School” also increases the chances of catching something!

Surprisingly, many if not most blog posts on parenting sites seemed to focus on the types of foods you should be feeding your children that will help improve their immune system. They’re great, and very useful indeed, but I wanted to find ways that went beyond what they munch on.

I couldn’t really find a comprehensive list, so I decided to write my own. If you’re a parent also dreading the next time your child falls ill, this might be helpful too.

Girl eating watermelon because fruits are healthy!

1. Healthy diet

The number one recommendation to boost kids’ immune systems is to feed them a healthy diet. That means cutting down on sugary foods and drinks, and stuffing them with more fruits and veggies.

Disease-causing bacteria loooooooooove sugar, they feed off of it. So consuming more sugar means literally helping the bad guys in our body win. Not a good idea!

More bad-guy bacteria also means the possibility of crowding out the good-guy, beneficial, immune-boosting bacteria which our body needs.

I know, our bodies are so complicated! But just know that too much sugar = bad.

Of course, conversely, more fruits and veggies are always good, because they have a ton of antioxidants in them, which help to promote the healthy function of the immune system. They also have immunoglobulins, antibodies that are also great for immune function.

Some pediatricians say that kids should be eating the rainbow when it comes to fruits and veggies, meaning bright and colorful ones like berries, oranges, mangoes, kiwis, apples, grapes, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots. 

Tip: Does your kid not like their veggies? Do what I do: Make 1) soups, and 2) pasta sauces from a variety of veggies. Your blender will become your best friend. Seriously, they can’t tell they’re in there!

Best of all I get called “the best in the whoooooooole world” for cooking something so “yummilicious” (in the words of my son) that they can’t help eating. Meanwhile I’m sniggering like hehehehehehehehehe you have no idea, son, you have no idea.

Little boy sleeping in bed with his father still fully dressed beside him

2. Enough sleep

You may have noticed yourself that you tend to get sick more easily when you haven’t been getting enough sleep. Those Netflix marathons late into the night are not worth it, girl! (At least that’s what I keep telling myself. I’m still oh so guilty, of course.)

One of the things kids love about the holidays is that they can sleep later than their usual bedtime. However, that might mean that they’re not getting the rest they need.

Thing about sleep is, it doesn’t really count count unless we’re in deep sleep. REM sleep is really the only time that your body is repairing itself, healing, doing all that goodness that your body needs to be able to function at its best (well, my body could be a lot better but hey, it tries, let’s give our body at least a fighting chance!).

Apparently if you’re sleep-deprived, your body also produces fewer protective cytokines, which is a type of protein released by your immune system that helps fight off infections and inflammation. So quite literally, not enough sleep = not strong enough to fight off falling sick.

So if you’re noticing that your kids are sleeping later but still waking up fairly early, and not getting their required sleep, it might be best to make beddy-bye time a little earlier.

How much is enough? Dr. Kathi Kemper, M.D., director of the Center for Holistic Pediatric Education and Research at Children’s Hospital, in Boston, says babies need up to 16 hours of crib time a day, toddlers require 11 to 14 hours, and preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours. School-going children should also be getting at least 9 to 12 hours a day.

Tip: An easy way to gauge this is that your kids should be sleeping at least 7pm-7am, 8pm-8am, 9pm-9am, or so.

A girl and her grandmother are playing with hoola hoops outdoors

3. Outdoor play

Yes! Shove your kids out the door and let them play, play, play!

I absolutely LOVE this article entitled, “No better time for kids to be outdoors than during a pandemic“.

Written by pediatric specialist Dr. Elizabeth Tham from the National University Hospital in Singapore, the commentary stresses that while “getting dirty playing in the mud or sand and going outdoors in a pandemic may at first seem counterintuitive given the prevailing emphasis on hygiene and safe distancing,” that it is in fact the way to go to “boost our immunity, reduce risk of developing diseases like allergies and infections, as well as improve our mental health.”

Why? Well, Dr. Elizabeth Tham has written it so well, I figure I may as well just quote her here:

“The “hygiene hypothesis” suggests that the increase in allergic diseases in recent years is linked to an overemphasis on cleanliness and hygiene, which has changed the bacteria in our surroundings and removed beneficial bacteria which might have been important for development of a healthy immune system.

Another theory, called the “old friends” hypothesis, suggests that some microbes, which have been in existence since ancient times, evolved alongside the human immune system. They live in peaceful cohabitation with us in the gut, skin, or respiratory tract and have been crucial partners to help us develop a robust immune system.

Thus, the current heightened emphasis on hygiene may disrupt this fine balance that has been established between humans and microbes over millennia, leading to poor or defective immune responses and potentially increasing the risks of developing other non-infectious diseases in time to come.”

In other words, in trying to be all prissy proper, we fixed what ain’t broke. Those microbes – the good and the bad ones – have their own long-standing peace treaty agreement. So don’t go interfering with it!

It’s never too late though. A study by the University of Helsinki in Finland revamped the gravel playgrounds at a couple of daycare centres, turning it into a field of forest floor, soil, and grasses instead, ie. dirt. One month after the change, scientists collected samples of skin, blood, and poop from all of the kids. Guess what, the kids that played in dirt showed a higher ratio of the anti-inflammatory proteins to pro-inflammatory proteins in their blood. Meaning they received an immunity boost in just one month!

So kick them out! Spending time outdoors getting dirty will not only boost our kids’ immune responses, it also ensures they’re getting much-needed Vitamin D and physical activity.

Tip: If your kids are still little, spending time with them outdoors can be easy even if playgrounds are currently a no-go. Go out for a walk, look for bugs, have a picnic in the grass… Just get out there.

If your kids are old enough and you have a garden, just kick them out and let them play. Try not to “helicopter” and see what they’re up to – it’s also a fantastic way to build their imagination and their ability to self-entertain.

And finally, try not to mind the mess. Trust me, it took me a long time to get comfortable with it! Just bring wet wipes in your bag wherever you go, so you have the peace of mind that no dirty is too dirty.

A woman teaches her son how to wash his hands at their kitchen sink

4. Prevent germ spread

Germs are everywhere, so teaching our kids proper hygiene (and eyeing them with an eagle eye so they execute accordingly!) is key to not stressing out and overloading their immune system. (There’s only so much it can take before *kapow*)

I’ve personally found the rule of not touching your face, eyes, nose, mouth with dirty hands to be just impossible. They’re kids! 

What’s been easier in our household has been to encourage the habit of handwashing. After playing outside, after going to the toilet, after playing with plasticine, after meals…

Tip: My son actually likes washing his hands because 1) he gets to play with water, and 2) he gets to test out mama’s soaps (I make my own artisanal soap from scratch). When they’re shaped like (and smell like!) a cupcake, waffle or cookie, he’s always keen to test them! So perhaps you can also let your kids pick out cute soaps they will personally like to use, to motivate them to keep those grubby paws clean!

Oh, and if anyone in the family is sick, make sure you’re not sharing anything! Don’t share dishes, cutlery, straws, cups, and also toothbrushes! Keep the sick kid or parent’s toothbrush away from the others, and toss it when they’re well. They can’t get sick from the same virus again, but it can pass from one toothbrush to another if they’re in close proximity, making another family member sick, and having the chance of it mutating and being passed back to your kid again! 

Also, no kisses on the mouth! My son kisses my arm whenever I’m sick. So sweet. 🥰 I also wear a mask when he’s sitting next to me or on my lap. Just to make sure he doesn’t fall ill!

Girl holding up two orange halves over her eyes

5. Supplements

Yes, the best way of consuming the vitamins we need is in fresh foods. But let’s face it, it’s not always possible. In fact, you’d have to eat roughly about 2 kilos of oranges a day in order to hit that 1000mg of Vitamin C. I don’t know about you but my diet does not consist of a daily orange buffet!

That’s where supplements come into the picture. Vitamin A, C, D, zinc, selenium, all play different roles in keeping kids’ immunities in tip-top shape. So a multivitamin might be the best choice. 

One that I recommend is Nature’s Way’s Alive! Kids Chewable Multivitamin in orange and berry flavoured chewies. I mean, it’s like giving your kids candy except for once it’s actually good for them! Not only does it have all those immunity-boosting vitamins and minerals, but it also has their own proprietary blend of 26 fruits and veggies! Even including brussels sprouts which nobody likes, like not even adults lol.  

Plus, the price is really decent at €10,26 a bottle of 120 tabs. That means it’ll last 2 months for kids 4 years and up (2 a day). Don’t worry, I did the math for you, that works out to 17 cents a day!

Another great supplement to have is a good kids’ probiotic, so you can boost your kids immunity with the right kind of bacteria. 

I recommend American Health’s Probiotic KidChewables. They’re a yummy strawberry vanilla flavour, and yet sugar-free and teeth-friendly. They also contain 5 billion live cultures – one of the highest I’ve found so far! And they’ve also passed double-blind tests to prove its effectiveness on positive microflora in kids.

They’re a little bit more costly at €12,73 a month (1 a day), but I think that’s a small price to pay to support the immune health of our little ones!

Use my iHerb code and get 5% off, even if you’re an existing customer! New customers get $5 off! https://www.iherb.com/?rcode=SUF645 (Or just use SUF645 as the promo code in checkout)

6. Stop smoking

“Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 harmful chemicals, many of which can irritate or kill cells in the body,” says epidemiologist Beverly Kingsley.

Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says that “smoking is not just a respiratory irritant, but many things in smoke affect the immune system.” This makes kids more susceptible to infections of all kinds.

So why put added pressure on kids’ already under-developed immune system by exposing them to smoke?

Many parents who smoke may smoke outside, a considerable distance away from their kids, so as to negate the effects of secondhand smoking. However, what they usually don’t pay attention to, is third-hand smoke.

When you’re done with your cigarette, what do you do? Do you immediately take a shower and change into new clothes after every cigarette? It’s unlikely. Which means residue from your smoke falls on your skin, in your fingernails, in your hair, on your clothes… It follows you into the house, on your floor mat, on your glass of water, on the kitchen counter, on the television remote, on the couch… And your kids are thereby exposed to third-hand smoke.

Australian parenting website Raising Children says, “You can’t get rid of third-hand smoke by airing out rooms, opening windows, using fans or air conditioners, or by confining smoking to certain areas of a home.” You just can’t. It’s everywhere.

So, for the sake of your kids, please don’t smoke!

A father and daughter moment, just spending time talking and laughing together.

7. Stress management

It’s a lesser talked about topic when it comes to boosting kids’ immune systems. But I felt like now, even more so than ever, we should get into the discussion of our children’s mental health.

WebMD says that “chronic stress exposes your body to a steady stream of stress hormones that suppress the immune system.”

This doesn’t mean we start shoving our kids to therapists and counsellors. There are three simple things we as parents can do with our kids to help them manage their stress levels:

Make sure your kids are not isolated

A tall order in these times of a pandemic, but studies have shown that people who feel connected to friends (it doesn’t matter if you have 5 or 500!) have a stronger immunity than people who feel alone.

So whether it’s planning more family activities or play dates with other kids, make sure your kids get plenty of social interaction, and know that they have meaningful connections in their life.

Talk to them

It may seem so easy, but when was the last time you really had a chat with your kid/s? You know, beyond the “How was school today?” questions around the dinner table. When was the last time you lay next to your kid and just asked questions like: 

  • What were you grateful for today?
  • What made you sad today?
  • Who are your best friends?
  • What would you wish for if you could wish for anything in the whole wide world?
  • What can Mama or Papa do for you to help you with school/life?
  • Who do you want to be when you grow up?

You might think your kids are too young for these serious questions, but their answers may surprise you!

Once at age 4, I asked my son what made him sad that day, and he said that he had to leave the playground because he was having fun playing with the other kids. After acknowledging that, and saying he could always go back tomorrow to continue playing, I proceeded to tell him what made me sad that day – that the dog was giving me troubles while I was walking him, and it made me very frustrated and upset.

What my son said next seriously took me by surprise.

He said that he wanted to change his “one thing that made him sad today” to what I had said. Because it made him sad that the dog was making Mama sad. Talk about learning empathy from a young age!

So be there for your kids and make time to talk to them. This close bond and assuredness that they are loved, appreciated and valued also does tons for their immune system!

Make them laugh

Laughter is the best medicine, literally! Laughter has a myriad of benefits, but it’s also a powerful boost to our immune system.

A study showed that “Laughter may reduce stress and improve NK (natural killer) cell activity. As low NK cell activity is linked to decreased disease resistance… laughter may be a useful cognitive-behavioral intervention.”

This might be the main reason why my son isn’t ill as often as I am – he laughs a ton more than I do! Thankfully he’s such the jokester, he makes me laugh too. 

Watch a funny movie together, a funny video on YouTube, play a funny game like Twister or poop-catching (yes this is a real game for family game night!), or just play some good old catching in your backyard. Whatever brings on the LOLs!

And these are just some ways of helping beat that stress monster in our kids, and help them live healthier lives – physically, mentally, and emotionally!

I hope this article has been comprehensive and helpful for you. I would love to hear your tips and tricks for boosting your children’s immune systems too, so please do leave a comment below!

Wishing you a happy new school season in September!

XOXO

Michelle