It breaks my heart when my kids are sick :( I'm sure every mummy feels the same. So I take some simple measures to ensure they stay at their peak health in the bug season so if they do get hit with any nasty bugs they don't suffer badly, it doesn't linger in the household and they recover quickly. Here are my secrets to keeping our kids as healthy as possible.
Boost your kids immune system
I am a firm believer and advocate (ask anyone who knows me) that good gut health is the key to a strong immune system (and good brain function, don't get me started on this). How are your kids tummies? Do they complain of sore tummies often, are the constipated, do they eat a very balanced diet? 80% of the time my kids eat well. Some days they seem to consume better than others but overall they do pretty well (even the fussy eater isn't too bad) and I'm sure most mums would say the same thing.
So why is gut health so important? Your gut is your first line of internal defence (your skin is your first line of external defence) when bugs enter into our body. How do they enter? Well usually through your child putting their hands in their mouth, up their nose or rubbing their eyes. These bugs get ingested and if their gut bacteria aren't able to destroy them at the lining of the gastrointestinal tract then they pass through and get into their bodies.
Therefore a balanced diet, where you keep sugar at a low and increase the foods that promote good gut bacteria is vital. Sugar reduces your immune system and creates an inflammatory response within the body. It is hidden in a number of kids products so please be aware and chose these wisely. I have my kids on a good probiotic and feed them good prebiotic food to ensure the good bowel bacteria have a nice environment to grow in. 'Inner Health Plus Kids Immune Booster' is a great over the counter product that is readily available and comes in a powder form that can be put on their breakfast cereal, in water or a fresh smoothie. Likewise some chemists and most health food stores stock 'Bioceuticals Babybiotics', this is also a powdered form of probiotics and is suitable from birth. If your child is under the care of a Naturopath they can prescribe a Naturopathic Only line of probiotics such as the Metagenics range.
Keep your kids hydrated
Fortunately my older child loves water, but my younger one can be a little monkey when it comes to drinking it. Keeping your kids hydrated is very important, not just in the Summer months but also in the cooler ones too. Staying hydrated allows their little bodies to flush away toxins and recover quicker, so keep them drinking good, clean water through the winter months.
Keep stress low in the household
This may seem like a strange point to mention. I can see you saying 'Cara! What on earth have they got to be stressed about?!'. This is true, they shouldn't have things to stress about. This is a point that doesn't just apply to kids but also to all parents. Stress is a huge immune system killer! School can be stressful to some kids, I know it is for my eldest son. Mr O has just made the transition from Pre Primary to Year 1 where he now has sight words, reading homework and mathletics. He has never been the type to sit down and focus on learning unless it's involves riding dirt bikes, playing with mud, being in the bush or Scooby Doo. So doing these new activities does stress him out. Over-scheduling our kids places additional stress on them. Protect their schedule, it is precious, remember give them time to just be kids they grow up too quickly. Besides, they have plenty of time to chose electives at Uni.
Soup it up
The best way to get your kids tummies filled with good stuff! Soup it up! I love doing Asian style soups. I crank the garlic, ginger, tumeric and cumin in all my soups, these spices have excellent antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties and are best used fresh never in a powdered form. If there is one bit of advice you take away from this blog is to please use fresh herbs and spices. Try refrain from using the powdered alternatives that contain anti-caking agents, fillers and have been processed to the point that they contain no therapeutic properties. Where can you find these ingredients? Yes your big name supermarkets have them but do WA a favour and support local growers and head to your local growers market.
Alternatively, minestrone is a great goodness packed soup that is a great hit with the kids. You can still add herbs like garlic and tumeric to this soup although I would avoid the ginger and cumin.
I have a Thermomix (his name is Theo and we have had a secret love affair going for 5 years now :P ) and use it like crazy for stocks, soups, pretty much anything. The concentrate vegetable stock is always in the fridge and a great base to start all your soups. I also get into the bone broths over winter, a great goodness filled soup. 'The Paleo Way' by Pete Evans has a fantastic bone broth recipe. I use this also as a great base for my soups. I do a large batch and freeze 500ml portions and grab when I need them.
Immune Boosting Supplements
Besides probiotics there are a couple of supplements I also give my kids. Fish Oil is one supplement that I give to them everyday, regardless of Winter or Summer. I do not buy this in my chemist. I buy it either online or via my local health food store. I give my kids 'Nordic Natural Children's DHA' this is a strawberry flavoured gel capsule that they can chew, it's doesn't taste like fish but if they play with it before swallowing it they smell like tuna. Fish Oil is vital for their little bodies, it provides them with good oils that their bodies need to grow and develop their brain.
I also give my kids 'Sambucol', this can be bought at your local chemist. It comes in a liquid form or chewable jellies. 'Sambucol Cold and Flu' contains black elderberry (an antioxidant), vitamin C and zinc. It can be given as an immune booster supplement or increased to treat the symptoms and shorten the duration of cold and flu. This is suitable for children over the age of 2 but please check with your doctor if your child suffers from any medical condition before giving it to them. I give this to my kids as soon as a feel they are getting a little run down and feel they need a boost or if I think they are coming down with something.
Teach them to wash their hands properly and blow their nose
Good hand hygiene is the best way to prevent germs getting into their little bodies. Teaching them to wash after going to the toilet (with soap! I constantly have to remind my kids about this), before they eat and straight after school. Before my kids have afternoon tea it's uniforms off, lunch boxes and drink bottles in the kitchen, wash your hands and face then sitting for afternoon tea. I always tell them to 'go get school off you and relax'.
Teaching your kids to blow their nose is the best habit to help reduce upper respiratory tract infections. Most colds are viral and pass in a few days. A nose runs for a number of reasons, allergies, cold weather, but it also does it to protect the body. It over produces mucus to protect the lungs and remove nasty invaders from the body so that they don't get into your lungs. So by not blowing you are allowing the bugs to just sit there and eventually be swallowed when your kids breathes them in. Telling your kids that when their nose is running it's trying to get out the alien bugs from their body is a good way to encourage them to blow that nose! And by blowing, really blowing, not just the light like blow. Block one nostril, tell them to breathe in through their mouth then close it and blow out their nose while make a angry tiger face. This squashes the nose up and allows better flow of mucus out of the nostril. Keep repeating this till the nostril sounds clear, then switch to the other side. As soon as it sounds full again get them blowing. Ensure they wash their hands after blowing is also important.
Teach them gratitude and to be calm
Strange point to out in but is something I don't think is taught much to our kids. How often do we sit down with our kids and discuss what they are most grateful for? Making them aware of their healthy body and how good it feels to be healthy is a great way to teach them healthy habits of gratitude. Did you know that they are now finding that practising gratitude everyday can help immune function. The practise of gratitude helps reduce stress and reminds us to live in the now, not to worry and to be thankful for what we have. It's something I try to do with my kids everday, before they go to bed. Sit with your kids and each take a turn of saying what you are grateful for for that day. One time my youngest one said he was grateful for Santa because otherwise he wouldn't get presents. They can be grateful for anything, you can't judge them but guide them by questioning the reason why they are grateful and how they can show thanks for that. In Mr G's case he went through his toys and chose 3 he was happy to give to the Salvation Army for a child who may not have been fortunate enough to have Santa Claus visit.
Teaching your kids 'calm' or how to be calm is not an easy task. For me I view calm as a state where they feel safe, content and relaxed. It doesn't mean meditation or breathing techniques, it means a place, activity, object, toy that they can sit, retreat to or relax with. For my youngest this is Lego or colouring in, he is content sitting quietly doing these activities. He can do these for hours, building, de-constructing, lining them up, colouring. He goes into a quiet zone that I admire, he is calm, content and relaxed. I often wonder what he is thinking. For my eldest he is most calm riding his bike and listening to music, he can ride and lose himself in his thoughts and will keep going (as long as it's flat). So finding something your child enjoys that they can do without getting frustrated, or wired with like the T.V. or IPad, is a way of making them aware of the feeling of calm.
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Wishing you and your family a healthy Winter!
Disclaimer: This information does not replace the advise of a medical practitioner/doctor. If you or your child have a current medical condition please seek advise from your doctor.