At group care, children share fun moments and educational activities, however, these positive experiences aren't the only things being passed around. It's common for illness and germs to spread between children as they share the same toy boxes, breathing spaces and, yes, bugs.
Children have a lower resistance to germs, so are more susceptible to illness, and as temperatures cool over winter, viruses often stick around for longer.
This means it's likely your child will come down with something at one point or another, but the good news is that there are ways to boost a child's immune system to help them fight off those dreaded child care lurgies.
What is the immune system?
The immune system consists of a network of cells, tissues, and organs, including the skin, mucus, white blood cells, and lymphatic system, that identify and fight against bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances.
It works hard to protect the body from invading organisms and get rid of infection, so here's how you can support your child's immune system as it grapples with all those group care germs:
- Make sure they get enough sleep
It's important that children get enough sleep, as a guide, toddlers need 11 to 14 hours a day and preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours, and one of the reasons for this, is that sleep supports their body systems.
Conversely, sleep deprivation increases a hormone called cortisol, which suppresses immune function, so make sure your little one wakes up well-rested and ready for child care.
- Feed them a healthy diet
Nutritious food powers youngsters through the day and supports their healthy growth and development. It's thought that sugar suppresses the immune system, while healthy foods such as fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, eggs and poultry give it a boost. So, encourage your youngster to eat a varied diet that's full of long-lasting energy and nutrients, and hydrate them with plenty of water too.
- Keep them active
Regular exercise helps the lymphatic system and makes the body feel happy and healthy, so it's important that children are physically active both at home and at child care. This means running, jumping, dancing, scavenger hunting and all those fun things that little bodies like to do.
- Give them time to relax
Stress can impact a person's immunity, so make sure that as well as keeping your child busy and engaged, you let them relax their minds and bodies, especially after a big day at child care. Gentle play is a great way to unwind and cuddles are calming too.
- Get them vaccinated
Vaccines introduce a dead or weakened version of a bacteria or virus into your child's body. The immune system 'remembers' attacks on it, so this subdued attack means that your body can recognise and respond quickly to any future exposure to that type of bacteria or virus.
In New Zealand, you don't have to vaccinate your child before sending them to child care, but the majority of children are immunised. The National Immunisation Schedule offers a series of free vaccines to babies, children and selected others, and in light of this year’s measles outbreak, vaccines are a good idea for children's bodies and society as a whole.
What happens if your child seems out of sorts?
Even by taking steps to boost their immune system, winter is a peak time for illness. If your little one is looking off-colour, then it's important that you make the right decision about whether to send them to child care or keep them home.
This CareforKids.co.nz article has some helpful advice for judging when 'sick is too sick,' and you can read about health services for young children here.