We’ve lived through this hellish cycle so many times with our kids.
They pick up a bug or virus from school, spend a day (or a week) at home getting better, and then as soon as they go back they bring home another illness!
Sometimes it takes down the entire household.
The never-ending stream of runny noses, coughs, and sore throats can be frustrating for kids and parents alike.
If you find yourself paying for childcare that your child cannot attend due to them being sick — while at the same time, you’re not getting paid by your employer because you have to stay off work to look after your child — it can be a real financial struggle too.
So why are your kids always sick since starting school, and is there anything you can do about it?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic cure or prevention if your kid is always sick since starting school. The best you can do is reinforce basic hygiene habits (which young kids can struggle with) and make sure everyone in the house is eating healthy, sleeping well, and exercising regularly.
And definitely don’t send your kids to school when they’re sick — they’ll just pass it along to some other unsuspecting family!
We’ve sought advice from a pediatrician about what to do when your child gets sick, plus some actionable tips to help you to keep your kids healthy and prevent those pesky back-to-school bugs.
Why do kids get sick more often when they start school?
The first few months of the school year are when children are most likely to get sick.
This is because children suddenly spend a lot more time indoors in close proximity to other children.
When you gather a group of youngsters in an enclosed space for any period of time, you can guarantee that if one child is sick, they will infect others.
Respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, influenza, and COVID-19 are all caused by airborne viruses that spread from one person to another.
You’ll also find that bacterial infections such as stomach bugs, pink eye (conjunctivitis), and the skin condition impetigo are commonly passed between children.
Dr. Ashanti Woods, a pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center explains:
“Illness is most commonly seen at the return to school in the fall.
“Prior to masks, kids and teenagers were at the mercy of their classmates’ ability to cover their mouth and nose with each sneeze and cough.
“As one can imagine, these sometimes cumbersome skills have yet to be developed by the youngest of children and are only moderately practiced at best by older teenagers.
“As a result, children inevitably swap germs and therefore become ill during the first few days of the return to school period.”
Can we expect less sickness in the future?
If your child gets sick shortly after starting school or daycare, you can take some comfort in knowing that the start of school is usually the peak time for viruses to circulate and that their chance of becoming sick will decrease as the school year progresses.
This is partly due to:
- warmer weather
- open windows that circulate fresh air
- and more time spent outdoors.
It’s also partly because once a person has been infected with a particular virus, they will develop antibodies that reduce the likelihood that they will get sick from the same germs a second time around.
However, as Dr. Woods explains, “There are literally millions of viruses that exist in the world, with hundreds (if not thousands) of those viruses being capable of causing the symptoms of the common cold.”
So, while children may become less likely to get sick over time, it is possible to catch one cold after another, after another.
6 tips for staying healthy after back-to-school
Alright, alright — we understand the boring science behind school-borne sickness, but is there anything parents can do about it?
The good news is that, yes, there are a few things you can control that might lower your risk of picking up an illness from school that puts the whole family in bed for a week.
However, none of these are guaranteed prevention — just best practices.
1. Don’t send your child to school when they’re sick
If you send your child to school when they’re sick, they will probably make someone else sick, and that’s just not fair.
Of course, let’s be real — working parents can’t afford to keep their kids home for every little sniffle.
The CDC recommends that anyone with symptoms of flu or COVID-19 stays at home until at least 24 hours after their fever has gone.
Vomiting and diarrhea are also good reasons for your child to stay at home.
For runny noses, sore throats, and other mild illnesses, it could be okay to send your child to school, but it’s wise to speak to your doctor first to rule out anything more serious.
You may also wish to call your school or childcare provider to check what their policy is about attending while sick.
2. Teach your kids good hygiene habits
Elementary school kids these days are often better than adults when it comes to covering their sneezes.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused schools to place great emphasis on teaching kids how to sneeze into their elbows.
Meanwhile, adults, who have been sneezing into their hands for their whole lives, may find the habit harder to break!
You can prevent sickness by encouraging your children to wash their hands regularly and avoid putting their hands near their mouth, nose, or eyes.
Proper hand washing should take 20 to 30 seconds.
To ensure that children spend enough time washing their hands thoroughly, you could get them in the habit of singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice while they wash.
A fun version of this song that kids can sing while hand washing is:
Happy birthday to the front
Happy birthday to the back
Happy birthday to the fingers
Happy birthday to the thumbs
Many happy returns to the wrists and the fingertips
3. Keep vaccinations up to date
The CDC recommends an immunization schedule that contains 30 or more shots from when a child is born until they reach adulthood.
Vaccination helps to prevent the spread of a host of serious diseases such as influenza, rotavirus, and hepatitis.
If your child is behind on their vaccinations for any reason, don’t worry.
It’s usually possible to catch up by receiving the vaccinations at a later date. Just speak to your healthcare professional for guidance.
4. Feed your child a healthy diet
A healthy balanced diet can prevent a lot more health problems than obesity.
A diet that’s rich in vitamins and minerals will help to support your child’s immune system so that even if they are exposed to viruses and bacteria, they’re less likely to get sick.
You’ll want to include a good variety, and different fruits and vegetables contain different nutrients.
Vitamin C and Vitamin D are both particularly important for a healthy immune system, so consider supplementing these if needed.
There are lots of ways to get kids to eat more vegetables — some of our favorites include hiding them in the entree or dousing them in parmesan cheese!
5. Stick to a sleep schedule
Many parents let their kids stay up late during the school holidays.
However, once they’re back at school in the fall, it’s vital that you ensure that your kids go to bed early enough to get enough sleep before school.
Sleep is essential for kids’ immune systems to function optimally.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that preschool-age kids get 10 to 13 hours of sleep and elementary school kids get 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night.
6. Encourage exercise
Daily physical activity can boost your child’s overall health.
The CDC recommends that preschool-aged kids should be active throughout the day and kids aged six and over should do at least one hour of physical activity every day.
After school, encourage your kids to ride bikes, play soccer, run around or climb trees — instead of plopping down in front of the TV.
If you can join in the activities with them, you could give your own health a boost without needing to spend time working out in the gym.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill that can keep your kids from getting sick at school — and then passing it along to you.
While it can be very frustrating, it’s common for children to get sick again and again once they start school.
This effect can be even more pronounced in preschool kids who haven’t spent much time with other children before starting daycare, as they won’t have so much immunity against common viruses.
The good news is that over time your child will develop increased immunity and become sick less often.
However, even once they’re teenagers you’ll probably find that the fall is a common time to pick up colds and stomach bugs.
To reduce sickness as much as possible, you should teach children of all ages the importance of good personal hygiene, a healthy diet, sleep, and exercise.
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Hope this helps!