Every day you come into contact with millions of bacteria, germs, and viruses – so does your child. Some of these germs that linger on your body may be harmful, and may lead to immune challenges.
Learning how to rid your body of various pathogens is called ‘hygiene.’ This is the proper practice of preventing the spread of germs by keeping yourself clean. It can also boost the immune system, which makes it an essential skill to learn in childhood.
The Importance of Hygiene for Kids
Good personal hygiene will help your kids stay healthy and ward off illnesses (1). And it’s never too early to learn!
From washing hands to brushing teeth, hygiene is responsible for keeping your child healthy across their lives. Creating habits they will use to keep their bodies strong from childhood.
Proper Hygiene and the Developing Immune System
Healthy hygiene habits may help children defend themselves against seasonal challenges.
Ridding the body of germs through washing or sanitizing is very beneficial for a child’s immune system, which isn’t fully developed until 7-8 years old (2). This makes strategies to support children’s immune system especially important as the body is not fully capable of fight pathogens itself.
Essential Hygiene Habits that will Keep Your Child Healthy
Essential hygiene habits that will keep your child healthy and have to do with preventing the spread of germs.
Helping your child prevent contracting and spreading harmful bacteria and viruses can be done through teaching proper handwashing, oral health care, hygiene and preventing touching of the face.
- Teaching children to wash their hands
The number one way to keep a child healthy is washing your hands. It’s essential to teach kids how to and when they should be washing their hands.
This starts with following the recommended hand washing regimen to control germs and bacteria (3):
- Wet your hands
- Lather your hands with soap (including the backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails)
- Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds
- Rinse your hands with warm water
- Dry hands
Times when they should ensure they’re washing your hands during these times (when they are most likely to come into contact with germs) (3):
- Before eating food
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After using the restroom
- After touching discarded waste or garbage
- Prevent children from touching their face
Touching your face is an absent-minded habit most people have – especially children. But it may also be a habit causing the spread of illness as the most vulnerable access points for harmful bacteria to enter the body are the eyes, nose, and mouth. From there, bacteria travel to the respiratory system.
To avoid this, teach kids good hygiene by practicing not touching their face and the mucous-line orifices of the face – eyes, nose, and mouth. Or, remembering to wash hands germ-spreading activities before touching their face.
- Maintaining oral hygiene
Cleaning the teeth and gums can prevent an array of health problems and bacterial infections. Especially since the mouth is the entry point to the digestive and respiratory systems.
Teach your child to brush and floss thoroughly at least two times per day, if not after every meal (4).
- Practicing sickness hygiene
‘Sickness hygiene’ is practiced when you are not feeling well and prevents the spread of germs to others (1).
Though you try to prevent you child from immune challenges, it is inevitable they will become sick multiple times in their formative years. This is why using sickness hygiene – covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, cleaning dirty surfaces, and not sharing possibility infected possessions – is an important lesson.
Other Healthy Habits that Can Boost Your Child’s Immune System
Besides basic hygiene practices, there are other healthy habits you can engage your child in to strengthen their immune system.
Focus on ample sleep and physical activity, stress relief, and proper nutrition and hydration.
- Practice regular bedtimes
Keeping to a bedtime for enough sleep is important for children.
Lack of quality sleep increases likelihood of illness after being exposed to a virus and slower recovery (5). Sleep quality can affect how quickly children recover from an illness, as well.
- Teach them how to mediate and relieve stress
Stress wears down the immune system over time and reduces its ability to protect the body against illness (6). Teach your child to mitigate stress early with these calming practices:
- Listening to calming music
- Taking relaxing walks
- Practice mindfulness (i.e., yoga, mediation)
- Emphasize physical activity and free play
Getting enough physical activity – especially aerobic exercise – is a key component of boosting the immune system and preventing disease. Engage your child in regular movement they enjoy for 60 minutes per day.
- Help them eat healthy and stay hydrated
Having a heathy for keeping your growing child’s body and immune system healthy.
You’ll want to make sure they’re getting a well-balanced diet with plenty of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fat. Also, prioritize acidic fruits, leafy vegetables, and nuts that come with immune-boosting micronutrients – including vitamins A, C, and E – and probiotics to benefit the gut.
Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated is also an essential addition to a healthy diet. This helps the body boost immune responses to better fight viruses (8).
Keep Your Child Healthy All Year Long
Harmful bacteria and viruses are lurking throughout the year, not only during seasonal changes.
To keep your child healthy, teach them basic hygiene practices – like proper handwashing, oral health care, sickness hygiene, aversion of face touching – to keep them from contracting an illness. Also, put an emphasis on other beneficial habits that boost the immune system; like ample sleep and physical activity, stress relief, and proper nutrition and hydration.
Emphasizing these practices of hygiene and embracing a balanced lifestyle at a young age can keep your child healthy as they – and their immune system – grow and develop.
Author: Allison Lansman, RDN, LD