It’s that time of year again.  The cold and flu season has descended on our country in what seems like a tidal wave, causing illness, hospitalizations, and even death in 49 states.  While the virus doesn’t discriminate who it will infect, the young and old are most at risk for contracting and suffering complications from the illness.  Since most of our children are in schools through the day, where they’re in close proximity to each other, I thought we could revisit some tried and true ways to help our little ones prevent sharing the germs with each other (and bringing them home to everyone else).

WASH, WASH, WASH – Hand washing is arguably the best way to prevent the spread of any infection.  Kids are never too young to learn the proper way to clean their little digits, and teaching good hygiene early on will help them develop a lifetime of good habits.  Soap and warm water are optimal, and so is duration.  The CDC recommends at least 20 seconds of lather before rinsing.  In our home, we sing.  Humming your way through the alphabet song or the happy birthday song twice assures your diligence.  And, what kid doesn’t like to sing?  If soap and water aren’t available, waterless gel sanitizers are an adequate substitute until you and your young one can get to a sink.

During the winter months when diseases are more prevalent, most retailers feature soaps and hand sanitizers on sale, and there are coupons available for these items, as well as paper towels, tissues, and cold medicines.  Find coupons for these supplies and more in Doc Frugal’s Coupon Savings Center; just click and print!

TEACH THEM TO BE CONSCIENTIOUS – Germs live everywhere, and can remain on a surface for two hours and up to several days.  Door handles, water fountains, pencil sharpeners, elevator buttons, faucets, and money can all harbor bacteria.  We can’t expect children to fight their instincts to reach out and experience their world; it’s part of how they develop.  I try to be diligent, though, especially with my five-year-old.  It’s worked well for us if she has something in her hands to keep them busy, like a grocery list or a notebook and pen.  One rule we’ve always followed, though, is to keep our hands off of other people. And, in public restrooms (as my mother taught me), the advice is: Don’t Touch Anything! Flush the toilet with your foot.  Use a paper towel as a barrier on the faucet and door handles after washing hands.

COVER YOUR SNEEZE, PLEASE – A few years ago, there was an initiative was released advising everyone to use their elbow to absorb the spray from coughing and sneezing, which is intended to prevent the microbes on our hands from spreading to more surfaces or people when a tissue or disposable handkerchief is not available.  It’s an easy, free, and useful inhibitor that even our littlest ones can learn quickly.

SOMETIMES, QUARANTINE IS NECESSARY – As careful as we try to be, sometimes we can’t prevent illnesses from invading.  I understand that arranging for childcare or time off work to keep a sick child home is nearly impossible sometimes, but the vicious cycle of spreading and re-infecting each other will continue if we send our kids back into the throes day after day.  In some cases, that extra day to rest will help get them over the hump and on the road to recovery faster. We also like to ask before we go to any parties or get-togethers if anyone attending is sick. If so, we will usually skip these functions.

DRINK UP – When symptoms descend on us, one of the most common words of advice from doctors is to stay hydrated.  When there are sore throats and coughs causing irritation, sometimes children just resist our best efforts to push fluids.  Water is always best, but don’t forget how soothing cold popsicles can feel – and a treat is a treat, no matter how sick you feel!  In our home, I can almost anticipate the pattern of sickness that will fall on my children, so I try to stay prepared and make some Gatorade or Pedialyte popsicles to ensure they’ll get valuable electrolytes.  My popsicle molds cost $0.97 each, and they have been worth every penny.

It costs next to nothing to teach children ways to help keep themselves, their friends, and their families healthy.