As parents, you want nothing more than to see your child happy, content, and healthy. And that is why it may cause you a great deal of worry and anxiety when your child gets sick.
What does being sick mean for a child? It is much more than just the physical discomfort that the child has to endure (which by itself can be significant). It also means days away from school and friends, and at home, the loss of playtime and learning.
Given the impact of sick days on the overall development of your child, it is natural for you as parents to want to help build your child’s immunity to help minimize them.
When a child is sick, it means that their immunity is compromised. The immune system plays a vital role in a child’s growth and development, and it protects them from harmful germs, bacteria, and viruses. When a child’s immune system is weak, they become more susceptible to getting ill1.
Fortunately, there are several simple steps that you can take to boost their immunity and raise a happy and healthy child.
How to boost your child’s immunity
When it comes to your child’s immunity, there are several practical things you can put into motion to help strengthen it. Help your child build up their first line of defense and reduce sick days by focusing on the following.
Regulate their bedtime schedule
Did you know that your preschoolers need to sleep longer than you do? According to the Sleep Foundation, your child needs at least 10-13 hours of regular sleep2.
Sleep helps in developing your child’s mental and motor skills, attention, and above all, immunity3. Children who are sick get tired more easily and need time to recuperate4. Hence, encourage them to get adequate sleep to help them recover faster and reduce sick days.
In addition, when your child does not get enough sleep, they are prone to developing a range of illnesses in adulthood3. For example, they are at risk of encountering immunity problems, anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular diseases3. Therefore, it is imperative to instill a good foundation of sleeping habits in your children for improved adult health in the future.
Some children may have difficulty falling asleep, so the Sleep Foundation recommends setting a bedtime routine, limiting their use of gadgets, and avoiding sweets before bedtime3.
Complete their vaccines
Your child may be born with an immunity against certain diseases, but it does not necessarily guarantee that their immune system can protect them against more serious diseases5. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccines help strengthen and develop your child’s immune system, especially against deadly diseases5.
Vaccines are an effective immunity booster and help to reduce chances of infection by working with your child’s natural immunity5. The National Childhood Immunisation Programme (NCIP) in Singapore provides vaccines for TB (BCG), hepatitis B (HepB), diphteria, pertussis and tetanus (DTaP), poliomyelitis (IPV/OPV), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), pneumococcal disease (PCV), and human papillomavirus (HPV) - of which only diphteria and measles vaccines are mandatory by law6. Consult your healthcare provider to know how you can get your child immunized.
Practice good hygiene
Teaching good hygiene practices to young children can be a hard job for parents, but it is essential. Good hygiene habits such as regular flossing of their teeth, covering their mouth when coughing or sneezing, taking a bath daily, and washing their hands7 can have long-term, positive impacts on their wellbeing.
Washing their hands properly can significantly reduce their risk of contracting illnesses8. Since children use their hands often (touching surfaces, eating with their hands, playing with toys), washing them frequently can help strengthen a child’s immunity, and even be effective against antibiotic resistance8. This is especially important in the new normal of COVID-19.
Keep their mind and body active
Exercising is a natural immunity booster that also helps in developing your child’s mental and motor skills. By encouraging your child to stay active through play and exercise, they can experience a boost in their health, immunity, and even decrease the symptoms of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and pain9.
Plan a healthy and yummy diet for your child
It is essential to watch what your children eat and ensure that they have all the necessary nutrients in the right amounts. Some of the food that you look to incorporate in your child’s diet include:
Lean meat and poultry contains a number of nutrients such as selenium, protein, zinc, and iron, which are all important for your child’s muscle and tissue development. These foods, alongside fish, milk, eggs, and fortified bread and cereals, also contain B vitamins - B1, B2, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, B12, and folic acid - that are essential for the production of red blood cells, and can help to support various metabolic functions10.
Fruits such as oranges, melons, and strawberries can serve as an alternative healthy snack for your children. Wash them and cut them up for a hassle-free snack. These offer a wide variety of nutrients, such as Vitamin C11, which can help boost your child’s health and immunity.
Nuts and seeds are both healthy sources of Vitamin E, which a number of studies have indicated to be able to improve immune response as you continue to grow older, and lower your risk of cancer or asthma by suppressing oxidative damage12.
Asparagus, onion, garlic, onions, bananas, barley, and oats are just some of several foods that contain prebiotics, a special kind of fibre that aids your child’s digestion and immunity13. Yoghurt, alternatively, is a healthy source of probiotics, which is equally necessary for gut health.
Carrots, green leafy vegetables, capsicums, and oranges are foods that are rich in beta-carotene, the powerful, immune-boosting antioxidant that helps to keep diseases at bay14.
Dairy products and fish contain iodine and Vitamin A. Iodine is necessary for supporting multiple biochemical reactions in the body and boosting your immune system15. Vitamin A, on the other hand, can promote optimal growth and visual health, whilst enhancing your child’s immune functions.
Oily fish, eggs, and fortified cereals are foods that contain vitamin D, which can help to boost your child’s immune system10.
Certain types of fortified milk contain an array of nutrients, such as calcium, milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that help boost your child’s immunity, bone strength, and brain development16. Fortified milk may also contain yeast Beta-Glucan, which supports the immune system by attaching itself to immune cells and encouraging them to activate and multiply17.
Dealing with a child who is sick can be challenging. But you can take active measures to strengthen your child’s immunity and help minimize their sick days.
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Dr. Raymond Choy Wai Mun
MBChB (UK), Aviation Medicine (Singapore)
- How does the immune system work? (2020). Retrieved September 24, 2020 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279364/
- How much sleep do babies and kids need? (2020). Retrieved September 24, 2020 from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-much-sleep-do-kids-need
- Children and Sleep. (2020). Retrieved September 24, 2020 from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/children-and-sleep
- Looking after a sick child (2018). Retrieved October 7, 2020 from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/looking-after-sick-child/
- How vaccines work: preventing diseases. (2019). Retrieved September 24, 2020 from: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/why-vaccinate/vaccine-decision.html
- Child Immunisation, MOH SG. Retrieved October 23, 2020 from: https://www.moh.gov.sg/docs/librariesprovider5/resources-statistics/reports/childhood-immunisation.pdf
- Personal hygiene for children. (2020). Retrieved September 24, 2020 from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/personal-hygiene-for-children
- Why wash your hands? (2020). Retrieved September 24, 2020 from: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html
- Physical activity: Benefits of exercise for health and wellbeing. (2020). Retrieved September 24, 2020 from: https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Article?contentid=641&language=English
- Vitamins (July, 2014) Retrieved Oct. 9, 2020 from https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/vitamin.html
- How to Get Your Child to Eat More Fruits and Veggies. (2020). Retrieved October 7, 2020 from: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/How-to-Get-Your-Child-to-Eat-More-Fruits-and-Veggies.aspx
- Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and Immune Response: Recent Advances. Retrieved November November 5, 2020 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK230984/#:~:text=Most%20studies%20show%20that%20vitamin,that%20may%20occur%20during%20exercise
- Prebiotics, probiotics, and your health. (2019). Retrieved September 24, 2020 from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/prebiotics-probiotics-and-your-health/art-20390058
- Foods To Boost the Immune System (2020). Retrieved September 25, 2020 from https://www.pcrm.org/news/blog/foods-boost-immune-system
- A Role for Iodide and Thyroglobulin in Modulating the Function of Human Immune Cells (November 15 2017) Retrieved November 5, 2020 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5694785/
- Health benefits of dairy lipids and MFGM in infant formula. (2018). Retrieved October 9, 2020 from: https://www.ocl-journal.org/articles/ocl/full_html/2018/03/ocl180019s/ocl180019s.html
- Yeast beta-glucan: An immunomodulator or just a food supplement? (n.d). Retrieved on November 27, 2020 from https://www.bhecentre.com/2019/10/29/yeast-beta-glucan-an-immunomodulator-or-just-a-food-supplement/