During the winter season with young children, it seems like colds, flu and viruses run rampant. It is just that time of year when it is cold outside and more activity is done inside rather than outside. The old saying, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” is so in keeping young children well.
I can remember growing up in the 1950s and 1960s — after getting home from school we were instructed to immediately wash our hands, bathe and brush our teeth to ward off germs that could have been passed around at school. In today’s world, children just do not go straight home from school; they have after-school activities.
I hope these very simple, common-sense tips will gently remind and help parents with young children to keep them healthy. I have gleaned these suggestions from health specialists’ resources, curriculum and years of experience in the early childhood classroom.
Hand-washing is so important in reducing the passage of germs. Use lukewarm water and soap to wash hands and fingernails for at least 20 seconds. Next, rinse your hands, and dry them thoroughly. Train your young child to wash their hands after going to the bathroom and right before meals and snacks. I have to remind young children to thoroughly dry their hands so that during our winter cold weather their hands do not get chapped.
Make sure the nutritional needs of your child are met. Eating healthy meals helps your child better fight colds. Eating vegetables, fruits and well-balanced meals can be modeled by parents by eating the right foods in front of their children.
As parents and early childhood teachers, we know firsthand the abundant amount of energy that young children have. I absolutely love to look through young children’s eyes because they do not want to miss a thing. When young children finally slow down and drift off to sleep, it is so very good for them physically, mentally and emotionally. Getting enough sleep allows the body to rest and relax, prevents illnesses and refuels our bodies for the next day.
How much sleep is needed for children at different ages? The Alabama Cooperative Extension System outlines this in “Back to School — The 411 on Quality Sleep.” As we know, young children need more sleep than adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following hours for different ages:
• Infants (under 1 year) – 12 to 16 hours, including naps.
• Toddlers (ages 1 to 2) – 11 to 14 hours, including naps
• Preschool (ages 3 to 5) – 10 to 13 hours, including naps
• School-age (ages 6 to 12) – 9 to 12 hours each night
1. Prepare your infant for bedtime by rocking, playing soft music, singing, hugging and keeping events low-key right before bedtime.
2. Follow the same schedule or routine so your child knows bedtime is on its way. They adjust to this.
3. Develop a “going to bed” nightly tradition to set the sleep mood, like lining up their toys, reading a good bedtime story or singing or playing soft music.
4. When you slip out of the room, if your baby cries, you can reassure them by softly talking to them.
5. Make sure noise disturbances are kept at a minimum from family and friends.
6. Check the room temperature and make sure it is not too cold or hot.
7. Check on needed diaper changes or other physical needs during the night.
8. Toddlers, when they begin to teethe, may not feel well so they may have more night awakenings.
9. Toddlers are more aware of their surroundings and might be afraid of the dark or being alone. Putting a soft night light in your child’s room will help this problem.
10. Some young children require a pacifier in order to feel secure and be able to sleep at night. Place your child’s pacifier close to them at night. Also, put that nightly cup or glass of water nearby.
11. As an early childhood teacher, I have noticed that some toddlers might be resistant to an afternoon nap. Just encourage them to rest and do quiet activities.
When the weather is pretty during these winter months, encourage your child to play outside and get plenty of fresh air. I know in our preschools, when the weather is not too cold or rainy, we take our class of children outside to play. It is good for their health. Properly dress your child so they don’t get too hot or too cold. Young children love free play. Being able to run, skip and explore encourages not only muscle development but language development, and good social development.
When your child is sick, help them get well. Schools and child care centers have policies on when your child may return to school after they have been sick. Follow these policies closely so other students and teachers don’t get sick.
I hope these simple suggestions help your children stay well during this winter season.