1. Make great immune supporting food choices as a family. Leafy green vegetables like kale, rapini, spinach, beet tops, swiss chard all have components that help the immune system. Oranges, red, yellow and orange peppers, berries, plums – all of these are chock-a-block full of vitamins and minerals that help the immune system. Lean meats, organic eggs, nuts and seeds and legumes help provide protein building blocks to construct antibodies and healthy cells to fight viruses, bacteria, and parasites when children are exposed. Including children in choosing the foods from the market, grocery store, or garden, having them help wash and rip apart the leafy greens or take the stems out of the blueberries – these are all great ways for children to anticipate eating the food and feel great about the choices. You can even tell children what the food is doing inside their bodies. “You know, this kale is helping your white blood cells get strong. White blood cells kill germs in your body. Go white blood cells!” Kids love that.
2. Skip the junk “food”. Junk food offends so many parts of the body, don’t get me started, but certainly the immune system takes a major brunt of the chemicals, rotten fats, sugar and salt that make up most junk “food”. Let’s help kids fight back against the ever present advertising for these products by creating a culture in our families and in our communities where good choices for our bodies are the norm. Families and communities where we make great food choices so we can be strong and accomplish wonderful and amazing things throughout the day because we feel healthy.
3. Sleep. Some kids are easy sleepers and others need lots of help with sleep. I’m sure you’ve read over and over again that a bedtime routine helps. This stumped me for quite a while as I thought I needed to do the bath (which actually stimulates my kids so that was totally counterproductive), maybe a massage (turned into a tickle-fest and stimulated everybody) some quiet music (distracted everyone including me) and some books (one more! one more!). We finally found a simple routine that works for us and now it has become, well, routine. The bedtime routine helps the whole family make the shift from daytime “on” to nighttime “low”. The body does all kinds of important things when we’re sleeping – growing, repairing any damaged bits, processing all the information gathered that day. When we’re sleeping, all those building blocks and vitamins and minerals are put together and utilized to make antibodies and healthy immune molecules and structures. Important work to make sure the immune system is on track and ready to fight those germs. Ah, sleep.
4. Get dirty. While it is important to wash hands and keep up reasonable hygiene, it’s also great to realize that getting a dirty is good for our kids and ourselves. I’ll tell you about the theory here: If kids are exposed to dirt and viruses and bacteria and fungus and pollen and what-have-you in small amounts on a regular basis, their immune systems learns that these foreign substances need to be eliminated but not in a panicked and freaking out sort of way. So, if little Freddy eats some dirt now again when he’s playing in the sandbox, his body builds immunity to all the junk in that dirt. When he’s exposed to it again, his body says, “Ah, you there virus, I’ve seen you before and this is how to get rid of you!” A quick and efficient runny nose should do the trick. If it hasn’t been exposed, the body goes into full blown inflammatory / fever / super strong mode to get rid of them. So fever, chills, sweats, runny nose, cough, major mucus – the body pulls out all the stops to get rid of something new to which it hasn’t been exposed previously. So scrap the anti-bacterial soaps, get out the old fashioned plain soap to wash hands and feel great when your kids are filthy.
5. Help your child identify and deal with stress. We always hear about stress for grown-ups in our busy and hectic world. It contributes to headaches, stomach aches, colds, flus and chronic disease. Well, kids have lots of stress too. Kids’ stress can be big – like being bullied or going through their parents’ separation. But, smaller stresses can add up too. Learning and practicing new skills, a busy schedule with school and extra-curricular activities, even something like growing out of a favourite shirt can be stressful. Helping children identify, name and talk about their feelings if they want to, or just giving them space to draw, paint, run around or think to themselves can be tremendously regenerative. More formal practices like yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing can also be helpful for kids. Who knew, huh?
6. Check in with your naturopathic doctor to discuss probiotics, vitamins, minerals, herbs and homeopathics that help the immune system kick some germ butt. There are all kinds of wonderful supports for the immune system. And, if the body does end up getting stuck in the “sick cycle” – perhaps recurrent ear infections or recurrent chest colds, there are effective naturopathic treatments to nudge it back to normal responses.
Good luck this fall and enjoy your families and communities with healthy immune systems.