Protecting Your Kids from Colds and Flu

Mother checking son's temperature

The falling leaves and cold, wet drizzle are telling signs that autumn is here—and with it comes the dreaded cold and flu season. As we continue battling the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping our families healthy is a top priority. Stanford Children’s Health pediatricians Alyssa Bianca Velasco, MD, and Jasmin Makar, MD, offer us some valuable tips for staying well this year.  

Dr. Makar also discusses how to boost your child’s immune system this cold and flu season in a HealthTalks podcast.


 

The first thing on Dr. Velasco’s list is to stay up-to-date on wellness checks, and that includes the adults! Check with your primary care physician or pediatrician to make sure that everyone is on track, especially when it comes to the little ones, since they tend to have more frequent appointments.

“A lot of people put wellness checks off in 2020 for fear of going to the doctor’s office, but keeping these appointments is really important,” says Dr. Velasco. “Kids’ health in the early years sets the stage for their health later in life. Yearly appointments are an opportunity to address any questions or concerns about their health or development, and to catch any problems—and intervene early.”

While you and the kids are getting a checkup, Dr. Makar recommends getting a yearly flu shot for everyone aged 6 months and older. Although the effectiveness of the flu shot varies from year to year, it can still lower your risk of getting the flu. And if you do happen to catch the virus, it reduces the potential complications.

“This is the beginning of our flu season, and I always recommend to my patients to get the flu shot,” Dr. Makar says. Now that the age range for the COVID-19 vaccine has expanded to cover younger patients, she hopes families will take advantage. “For kids over 12 right now, and [now] for kids over 5, getting their COVID vaccine, that’s a huge, huge bonus and a huge way to protect a very vulnerable population.”

Dr. Velasco notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed that getting the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time is safe.

Keeping up with COVID-19 safety protocols can also help ward off other viruses, like cold and flu. So, don’t let up on the masks, physical distancing, handwashing, and disinfecting.

A big part of good health starts at home with a healthy diet and plenty of sleep, according to Dr. Makar. “Obviously, nutrition plays a huge part in immunity,” she says. “There’s no magic to it—it’s really just eating a wide variety of foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and minimizing the amounts of processed foods.” She also recommends limiting screen time and creating a consistent bedtime routine to ensure that kids are getting quality sleep every night.

With all the talk about pandemics and viruses, it’s normal for kids to have some anxiety about getting sick or going to see the doctor. Dr. Velasco believes being honest with kids and letting them know what to expect when they have a doctor visit can help ease their fears about getting a checkup, vaccination, or COVID test.

“Kids are often expecting something worse than the actual reality,” she shares. “I recently had a patient who thought I’d be putting the entire 7-inch COVID test swab in his nose! When he realized it was only the tip of it, he was really relieved.”

The reality is it’s normal for kids to get sick no matter what we do. The key is to help them through by taking steps to make them feel better and prevent the spread, according to Dr. Makar.

“Inevitably, kids are going to get sick. We can’t avoid everything,” she says. “It can be scary and anxiety provoking, but the kids weather these standard childhood viruses very well. Kids are very resilient.”

Dr. Velasco also recommends that families remember to make mental health a priority—especially right now.

“The mental health of children and teens really suffered during the pandemic,” she says. “It’s important to see your doctor because you develop a relationship with them and it can be a safe place to discuss things.”

For more information about keeping your family healthy during cold and flu season, check out one of these articles: “A Simple Way to Keep the Flu Away,” “4 Steps Parents Can Take to Protect Their Child’s Immunity Right Now,” and “Common Cold in Children.”

Read more about COVID-19 and the vaccine for children here: “Learning About Coronavirus (COVID-19)” and “COVID-19 Vaccine Update.”

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