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8 Healthy Habits to Keep Kids From Getting Sick

When you and your kids develop routines that are known to prevent the spread of germs, you actually reduce your risk of getting sick. Here are eight habits that will keep your whole family healthier this season.

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When cold and flu season rolls around, getting sick can seem unavoidable. On average, we catch at least two or three colds per year, and millions of Canadians get the flu. Often, these illnesses are spread by children. “Kids are all in very close contact with each other,” says Dr. Robin Taylor, one of two medical officers of health serving greater Halifax. “They’re sharing books, toys, pencils – and germs!” But there are ways to ward off seasonal sicknesses. Try encouraging these healthy habits to keep your kids cold- and flu-free this season.

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Teach the “Happy Birthday” Method

Hand-washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent spreading and catching germs, when practiced properly. Make sure your little ones are using soap, scrubbing long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice (20 seconds), and including parts like thumbs and the backs of their hands. Teach kids to wash their hands at the right times, like eating, for instance, and after blowing their noses or taking out the garbage. Hand sanitizer can help in a pinch, although it won’t scrub away as many germs as soap can. With young children, watch to make sure they use it properly.

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Go For a Family Flu Shot

Every year, thousands of Canadians wind up in hospital – and hundreds even lose their lives – because of the seasonal flu. Millions more suffer at home. “Influenza can really knock people off their feet for a good ten days,” Taylor says. She recommends a yearly flu vaccination. It’s free to the general public in most provinces (and to high-risk groups in all provinces). Taylor adds: “It’s a very safe shot, and it protects well against the strains of the flu that we’re immunizing against.” The flu vaccine is available from doctors, local clinics or pharmacies like Shoppers Drug Mart.

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Keep Hands Away From Faces

A global health researcher in the U.S. observed that people touch their faces three or four times per hour – a lot more frequently than most people wash their hands. “We often do it and don’t think about it,” says Taylor. But touching your mouth and eyes is a very common way for viruses to enter your body. Teach your kids to keep their hands off their faces as much as possible, and make sure you practice this healthy habit as well.

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Practice Cough and Cold Hygiene

We may have been raised to cover our mouths when we cough and sneeze, but what you cover it with matters, too. Instead of using your hand or fist, which can transfer disease the next time you touch something, make a point of coughing and sneezing into your sleeve. “Teaching that at a young age is a good way stop the spread,” says Taylor. You can also cough into a facial tissue, just as long as you throw it away afterwards.

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Encourage the Fist Bump

If hands are often germy, then it stands to reason that handshakes spread these bugs around. What’s trending: The fist bump. Fist bumps are briefer than handshakes and involve less skin contact, so experts suspect they’re safer. Now it’s been confirmed by science. A small study this year at Aberystwyth University in Wales found that fist bumping transferred 90 percent fewer germs compared to a handshake, and was even more hygienic than a high-five.

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Keep a Clean Home

High-touch surfaces include anything at home or at school that is touched a lot, like light switches, door handles, telephones, remote controls and gaming devices. When you give these areas a frequent wipe-down, you’re getting rid of bugs that may have been left behind by busy hands. Be sure to clean actual dirt and grime away first, then use a disinfectant product to kill germs.

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Stay Home When You’re Sick

Do everyone a favour and keep cold and flu germs to yourself by staying away from public places when you or your kids are under the weather. If you or your child has had a fever, it’s best to wait 24 hours after it disappears before going back to work or school. If you’re at home caring for a sick child, make sure you’re carrying out all those other healthy habits, like frequent hand-washing and cleaning high-touch surfaces.

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Be Good to Your Body Every Day

Provide a good example by getting enough sleep, choosing a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Don’t smoke, and avoid exposing your kids to secondhand smoke. “All of those will contribute to staying healthy,” says Taylor, adding that these strategies will help keep your body strong when you need it. “It will help to prepare your immune system to be as healthy as it can, and to overcome any germs that you’re exposed to.”