Now that the new year is in full swing, the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day are over, and there isn’t a holiday to look forward to for another month, there is little left to distract us from the dreary, damp, desolate (okay, so maybe it isn’t that bad) flu season, so we might as well face it head-on.

How do you keep your kids safe from illness, the foremost occupational hazard of being a human? You can’t even see germs, for goodness’ sake. You can cover your cough and eat as many apples as you want, but you can also prevent the flu—starting at home.

Home Hygiene Habits

Sanitizing your home helps keep the germ count down inside.

Focus on the areas you and your family touch most, like phones, faucet handles, doorknobs, tablets, and any other pieces of technology that your two-year-old needs to maintain technological relevance before he is even in school.

Wipe down these objects with a kid- and pet-friendly, germ-killing wipe or old-fashioned soap and water to get rid of illness instigators before they can colonize and invade your body. It won’t take too long, it will help fight the flu, and you can add it to your spot-cleaning routine without throwing off your whole schedule.

Washing the sheets regularly doesn’t hurt either, and using window cleaner will remove the adorable hand/nose/face prints—and the germs they might contain—from the window.

But Wait! Don’t Be Too Clean

As important as a clean home is to your family’s health, there are exceptions to the rule. (I’m pretty sure that in order for an idea or a statement to become a rule, there has to be an exception.)

There is such a thing as “too clean.”

You don’t need to wipe down the counter five times a day with two kinds of wipes or use a whole can of air sanitizer unless your house is a literal zoo—and in this case, kids and spouses don’t count as animals.

Kids and Germs—There’s No Way Around It

young girl with dirt on faceYou can’t put your children in a metaphorical bubble—or an actual bubble, for that matter. They’re going to play outside, and they’re going to interact with other kids; either of which may expose them to certain germs.

The good news is: that’s okay.

The Hygiene Hypothesis indicates that entirely eliminating young children’s exposure to parasites, bacteria, and viruses actually diminishes the development of the immune system; so when your children come back in the house covered in mud, or when your toddler sneezes a couple times after daycare, it doesn’t mean they have the flu.

Side note: I never played in the dirt as a child, but that’s because I thought the dirt was gross. That hasn’t changed.

Playgrounds for Kids (and Germs)

kids on playground roundaboutWhat kid doesn’t enjoy a good playground? A giant structure to climb on with reckless, free-spirited, childlike abandon pretty much equals the best day ever, especially when you get to go with friends or as part of a birthday party.

Do germs even exist at a playground?

That was a rhetorical question. The answer is yes. In fact, despite the lack of attention I ever gave germs when I was on the playground, they do exist and even thrive at playgrounds.

When going to indoor or outdoor playgrounds, it’s a good idea to ask about the cleaning process. Also take some sanitizing wipes with you to clean the kids’ hands and faces once playtime is over.

Cover Your Cough

parent helping kid blow noseAs part of its flu prevention practices, the CDC recommends covering your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze—but it’s not like you get five minutes’ notice before either one of these semi-violent bodily functions happens. If you did, preparing a tissue would be much easier.

At the very least, you can teach your kids to do the “chicken wing” (also known as using your elbow to cover coughs) to prevent the spread of germs. If you end up using your hands, just make sure to promptly wash them.

When immediate access to a sink might not be available, travel-size hand sanitizer is a great investment. It can be attached to a lunch box, a belt loop, or stored in a pencil pouch so your child has easy access to clean hands.

If you want to go a step further, you can buy a large bottle for the teachers. That way, the cost doesn’t come out of their pockets, and you’ll promote good hygiene for kids in the entire class.

“An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away”

apple next to prescriptionI can still see the poster hanging in my elementary school cafeteria with this phrase on it. In retrospect, an apple with a face is kind of disconcerting, but the phrase obviously stuck with me (and you, most likely).

If anyone truly eats an apple a day, I commend you. I certainly don’t. This goes on the list of things I’m perpetually meaning to incorporate into my life but probably won’t ever. This popular apple aphorism that originated in Wales has stuck around for a while, partially due to its truthfulness. Apples do make a positive contribution to almost any diet, but there are other foods you can add into your diet too.

A well-rounded diet promotes a healthy immune system.

That means incorporating fruits, vegetables, and super foods, but adding new healthy foods to your diet doesn’t have to be all broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Local raw honey, which contains pollens and microbes specific to your area, is a sweet treat that is particularly helpful when treating a cold or seasonal allergies. Plus, it boosts the immune system when consumed on a regular basis, and a boosted immune system will lead to a stronger defense against the flu.

Flu: 1; You: 0

mom and daughter with flu on couchSo your child happens to wake up with a fever.

What do you do? Go to the doctor.

Any illness is most effectively eliminated by quick diagnosis and treatment. When you’re taking care of your child, be sure to take care of yourself, too. Two sick family members does not a happy household make.

What shouldn’t you do? Send your child to school.

Chances are they’ll get sicker at school and be sent home anyway, and you don’t want other classmates to get sick and continue the cycle of contamination. Similarly, if your child is almost fully recovered but still hasn’t been rid of the fever for at least 24 hours without medicine, don’t send them to school, parties, or other social functions.

Just because it’s flu season doesn’t mean you have to fear the flu. With the right preventative measures, you and your family have a good shot at dodging it. If you keep a hygienic household, allow your kids to be kids, and boost the immune system with a healthy diet, you’re taking the right steps toward a flu-free season for the entire family.