Baseball practice and music lessons, volleyball matches and theater rehearsals. There are dozens of opportunities for children to grow and learn in the world today.

Right, that’s nice and all, but all those opportunities are missed when your child catches a bug and is lying sick in bed. If he/she needs you to take care of him, both of your worlds come to a screeching halt until your child is better.

Thankfully, hygiene awareness can help prevent your child from getting sick — no matter the time of year.

Dr. George Phillips, division director of General Academic Pediatrics at Children’s Mercy Hospital and a father of three children, said it’s good to think of all seasons as being a good season to take the right steps against spreading illness.

“By far and away, hand hygiene is probably the best habit that we can all practice to stay healthy — kids and parents!” Phillips said.

Phillips suggested some good habits for children to learn, to help them stay healthy year round.

Hand hygiene is a great place to start, he said. Good hand hygiene includes washing hands with old-fashioned soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Another tip is to teach kids to clean their hands anytime they sneeze, cough or rub their noses, in addition to coughing into the crooks of their elbows, rather than their bare hands.

“I am amazed at how many preschool and early elementary school aged children have learned this trick, and I always make sure to praise their effort when they do this in the office,” Phillips said.

In a study conducted in a Detroit elementary school,washing hands at least four times per day resulted in reduced gastrointestinal illnesses and related absences by more than 50 percent. Instead of missing school in two instances per month due to the flu, your child could miss only once, thanks to a few more visits to the hand washing station.

It’s unavoidable that children would occasionally get sick, but Phillips pointed out that it’s important to know when a trip to the hospital is advised.

“A lot of these illnesses can be managed with simple comfort measures at home. If you have any worries, it is always a good idea to call your child’s pediatrician or family physician and speak with a nurse or doctor about your concerns,” he said.

While the doctor pointed out some typical viral and bacterial infections, he said that there are good habits to keep year round.

“Getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly all have positive effects on our immune system,” he said.

Parents: this advice works for any immune system!

(Master D, Longe SH, Dickson H. Scheduled hand washing in an elementary school population. Family Medicine. 1997;29(5):336-339)

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