Preventing Sickness in Daycare and Preschool

kids at preschool
Starting preschool or daycare can special time for kids. It is also a time when kids are in close proximity and germs are spread. Here are some ideas to help.

by Patricia Hughes

Starting preschool or daycare can special time for kids. It is a time to meet new friends and share new and exciting experiences. It is also a time when kids are in close proximity and germs are spread. The recent swine flu scare is latest fear of parents, but there are always bugs going around where little children congregate. Fortunately, there are a few things care providers and parents can do to reduce the spread of sickness.

Some things need to be done by the staff of the daycare, such as proper cleaning and disinfecting techniques. Toys need to be disinfected on a regular basis, particularly in the rooms with younger children. This should be done daily for infants and toddlers.

Ask about daycare’s policy regarding sick children. Children should be required to stay home when sick. Some are more lenient than others. They find themselves in a sticky situation and need to balance the need for parents to work with best interests and health of all children in mind. Some will go too far in accommodating parents and don’t send kids home quickly enough. This spreads sickness. You decide if the policy is one you can live with.

Reciprocate by keeping your own child home when he is too sick for daycare. Following the policies of your daycare center is one the best things you can do to reduce sickness. Don’t be the mom feeding the child Tylenol and sneaking him into daycare in order to meet that work deadline. Switch sick time with your spouse, split the day or call reinforcements, such as grandma if too sick for school.

One thing parents can do is teach their children proper hand washing techniques. The Centers for Disease Control guidelines include washing with warm water, rubbing hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds, washing both the front and backs of the hands. Rinse the hands thoroughly and dry with a paper towel. Kids can also be taught to use the paper towel to turn off the faucet.

Hand washing is important in reducing the spread of illness. Ask about hand washing policies at the school your child attends. At minimum, the children should be required to wash hands after using the bathroom, before eating and after playing outside.

Another thing to teach kids is what to do when sneezing. Teaching them to use a tissue and the importance of covering the mouth and nose when sneezing helps reduce the spread of germs. Take it from someone with 12 years experience in preschool, they will go to school and teach their sneezing friends.

For the whole family, it never hurts to boost the immune system to ward off illness. This can be done with a healthy diet and plenty of rest. When run down and not taking care of yourself, you can get sick easier and the same is true for kids. Kids have to be up early for school or daycare, so enforcing an early bedtime is important to ensure they are getting enough rest.

Breastfed babies in daycare have the immune system benefit of mom’s milk to help prevent sickness. Eating foods that strengthen the immune system is a good idea for every member of the family.

Foods that support the immune system include:

  • Probiotics support the immune system by increasing the white blood cell count. Probiotics are found in yogurt and are available in supplement form in health food stores.
  • Vitamin C has been shown in numerous studies to have immune boosting benefits. This vitamin is found in abundance in citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, papaya and guava.
  • Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin that boosts the immune system by increasing the production of cells that destroy germs and bacteria in the body. Vitamin E is found in seeds and whole grains.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids increase the activity of white blood cells to enhance the immune system. These are found in fish, flax and fish oils. There are supplements available as well.
  • Zinc is an essential mineral that increases the number of infection fighting cells that kill everything from bacteria to cancer cells. Zinc is found in beans, beef, turkey and cereals are fortified with this medicine.

Remember to always consult with your health-care profession before changing your child’s diet or introducing new foods.

The University of Michigan Health System has a document online with great information for preventing infections in daycare, at school and in the home.

Here is a CDC document on preventing the spread of flu in a daycare setting. Most child care providers should have this information, but if not, you can pass it along to your provider.

Patricia Hughes is a freelance writer and mother of four. Patricia has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Florida Atlantic University. She has written extensively on pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and breastfeeding. In addition, she has written about home décor and travel.

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