Staying healthy is a goal that especially important to families with children. The cost of medical bills and prescriptions can dig huge holes in the household budget. Kids are most vulnerable at school, where germs and bacteria run riot in the classroom and on the playground. These 10 tips -- all free -- can help them stay healthy throughout the year.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP TO LEARN
WASH HANDS TO FIGHT GERMS
Serious hand washing is the single best way to battle germs, according to a survey of school nurses mounted by KidsHealth. Good hand washing requires 20 seconds of a frothy lather with soap and warm water. Not sure how to turn this into a regular habit? Get the kids to sing the birthday song twice through while sudsing up. It's always smart to remind children to wash their hands as soon as they walk in the door, to avoid transferring germs from school to home.
DON'T SHARE FOOD
Children must learn to share -- except when it comes to germs. This includes swapping beverages and sharing food. Some other child's sandwich may look tempting, but sticking to lunches packed at home is a far healthier choice. Teach the kids to keep food and drinks to themselves to avoid transferring germs.
KEEP HANDS AWAY FROM THE FACE
Bringing a hand to the face is a thoughtless reflex, but talk to children about the reasons why they should avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth. It's as simple as explaining that germs enter our bodies through these openings. At the very least, they should lather up before touching their faces.
EAT HEALTHY TO STAY HEALTHY
It's no secret that eating a healthy diet is a must, but it's even more critical for school-age children. Good nutrition not only boosts brainpower, but getting the right amount of vitamins and nutrients boosts the immune system, as well. Pack healthy lunches and make sure kids eat a healthy breakfast to keep energy flowing throughout the day. Aim to start the day with a protein-based meal with a side of fat, fiber, and complex carbs.
EXERCISE FOR BRAIN AND BODY HEALTH
Once school starts, activity levels tend to fall, because kids spend more time sitting at a desk than running and playing. While this may be good for the brain, the body also needs exercise to stay healthy. Recess probably isn't sufficient for the recommended amount of physical activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youngsters and adolescents need at least 60 minutes a day of physical activity. With a few minimal changes, this goal is reachable. Take children to a park regularly, walk to school instead of driving, limit screen time, and get them outside riding a bike or kicking a ball around.
STAY HOME WITH A COLD OR FLU
When children come down with a cold or flu, keep them out of school to prevent spreading germs and give their bodies time to recover. Growing kids won't get better as quickly without adequate rest. Jumping back into the mix before the immune system is in full control leaves a child vulnerable to catching something else.
GET FULL-BODY CHECKUPS
Yearly physicals are important, as are regular hearing and vision tests. School performance is sure to suffer if a child doesn't see or hear well. If these assessments don't happen at the child's well visit, request them, or find specialists who can perform the tests. If you suspect something is wrong, head to the doctor even if the yearly exam isn't yet due.
DO THE VACCINE ROUTINE
Aside from annual checkups by the doctor, make sure children's vaccinations are up-to-date for their age -- and that includes flu shots. Once children are in school, it's impossible to know what they will be exposed to. Vaccinations are the best way to protect them from some pretty scary illnesses.
PREVENT HEAD LICE
Unfortunately, being in school exposes kids to the scourge of head lice. Getting rid of lice can keep a child out of school for several days -- not to mention the expense of dealing with the insects. Take a preventive tack: Teach kids to avoid lice infestation. The CDC cautions that children should not share hats, scarves, hair bows and ties, combs, or brushes, or play in dress-up areas with hats or use helmets that belong to others. If one of those dreaded notes comes home indicating your children have been exposed to lice, wash their clothes in hot water (130 degrees) and dry them on the high-heat cycle -- and stay on the lookout for active lice.