5 Tips for Beating Back-to-School Germs

Experts share advice for keeping your kids healthy through the school year and beyond


With kids heading back to school and the weather cooling down, for many, early fall is an exciting and pleasurable time of year.

But one downside, of course, is that school-aged kids are inevitably exposed to more germs. With a busy schedule and a long list of responsibilities, adding all the duties of caring for a sick child to your to-do list isn’t ideal.

Plus, no parent wants to see their kid suffer.

Luckily, keeping your kids healthy and free of the common cold is as simple as teaching them to implement a few healthy habits into their daily routine.

Related: The Negative Health Effects of Heavy Backpacks, And How Your Kids Can Avoid Them

Here’s what you can do to help them beat the back-to-school germs and ensure they’ll stay healthy through the school year and beyond.

1. Get Serious About Hand Washing
"When it comes to back-to-school time, and cold and flu season in general, it’s important to teach kids about the importance of washing their hands regularly,” says Susan Griffin-Black a mom and the creator of the EO Natural Hand Sanitizers. “It’s the best way to stay healthy.”

Additionally, make sure your kids know how to wash their hands most effectively. According to WebMD, they should always use soap and warm water and make sure to scrub all over — their palms, the back of their hands, around their fingernails and between their fingers — for at least 20 seconds. Advise them to dry off with a paper towel and to use it to turn off the water as well (if available).

Kids likely won’t be able to wash their hands as often as they should, but as long as they do so before eating or drinking and after using the restroom, they’ll greatly reduce their risk of being exposed to unwanted germs.

Additionally, Sunil Sood, MD, chairman of pediatrics at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y. recommends using “Henry the Hand” to help educate young kids about germs and keeping their hands clean.

2. Arm Kids With Hand Sanitizer
“I also recommend keeping hand sanitizers stashed in backpacks, purses, desks and in the car because you never know when you’ll need to clean up,” says Griffin-Black. Plus, hand sanitizers make for a convenient go-to option when hand-washing isn’t available.

“Natural ingredients are always better than the harsh chemicals,” Griffin-Black adds. “I recommend looking for products that aren’t antibacterial and don’t contain the ingredient triclosan, which is a chemical found in many hand sanitizing products. Triclosan is toxic to people and the environment, and really should be avoided.” She also suggests that parents look for products with no synthetic fragrances. “The chemicals found in fragrance can be toxic and irritating to children as well," she says.

3. Help Kids Maintain a Healthy Immune System
This involves the obvious factors like making sure they regularly exercise and eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods, but also making sure they get enough sleep (about 8 to 13 hours a night, depending on their age) and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

4. Explain Germ Etiquette
WebMD experts suggest advising your kids to steer clear of seemingly sick children while they’re at school and in other communal settings. Plus, parents should teach their kids to cover their own coughs and sneezes using a tissue when possible or the nook of their elbow when tissues aren’t available.

Warn your children not to share their food and drinks as well as things like lip balm and ear buds.

5. Warn Them About the Most Germ-Filled Items
According to WebMD, a 2005 germ study found that school water fountains and lunch trays carried the most germs per square inch, so make sure your kids know not to put their mouths on water fountain spigots — better yet, send them to school with their own water bottle so they can avoid using fountains entirely. When it comes to avoiding cafeteria tray germs, washing their hands or using hand sanitizer before and after lunch is crucial.

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