The coronavirus’ alarming spread across the world has everyone worried. Apart from staying at home as part of the Covid-19 circuit breaker measures, how do you build your kids’ immunity against contagious viruses? Here, experts show you easy ways to boost their health.
Watch this video, then read our article for more details:
Get quality sleep
Dr Lim Kwang Hsien, consultant paediatrician at Kinder Clinic at Mount Alvernia Medical Centre, says that sleep deprivation appears to be linked to a decreased production of proteins called cytokines, which are important for the immune system.
Conversely, sufficient, uninterrupted sleep allows the adequate production of cytokines to help keep your child’s immune system in optimum condition.
Here’s how much sleep kids of different age groups need:
- One to three years: 12 to 14 hours
- Three to six years: 10 to 12 hours
- Seven to 12 years: 10 to 11 hours
Help her manage stress
Anxiety can often lead to disturbed sleep patterns and altered eating habits, says Dr Lim Kwang Hsien. This, in turn, translates to a lowered immune response. As most of the stresses in school-going children are related to homework or exams, help your child manage her study load with these strategies:
– Plan a daily timetable with her
– Look at which extra activities to cut back on
– Teach her how to break big projects into smaller, more doable tasks
– Encourage her to speak up in class if she does not understand the lesson
– Remind her to take regular rest breaks while studying.
Sometimes, she may experience social stress as a result of bullying or friendship issues, Dr Lim adds. Encourage her to discuss her feelings if she is affected by these problems.
Make exercise a priority
“Like adults, kids who are active and get regular exercise generally tend to be fit and healthy,” says Dr Lim Kwang Hsien. “There are many theories on how exercise can help build the immune system – for instance, it is thought to stimulate the production of cells involved in the immune system, as well as improve the body’s cardiorespiratory function.”
Before they start primary school, most young children will engage in mainly informal exercise, like running around in the park, or cycling or swimming with Mum and Dad. Some kids may even participate in a sport.
Once they start primary school, however, they tend to engage in more formal exercise programmes as part of their co-curricular activities or competitive sports training.
In addition, school programmes typically include three to four physical education sessions a week. These exercise sessions are usually adequate for school-going children, says Dr Lim.
Help your little one be more active by planning family bonding activities around outdoor exercises and encouraging her to take up a sport. Just remember not to push her to exercise when she is sick.
“It’s a misconception that exercise promotes recovery during periods of severe illness,” Dr Lim explains. “In fact, excessive exercise when a child is sick can have the opposite effect.”
Encourage good hygiene habits
Germs around the house can be good and bad, says Dr Dawn Lim, a paediatrician at Kinder Clinic at The Heeren. Exposure can help the body “create” some memory of that particular germ, so your child can fight it easily the next time she’s exposed to it. However, as her immunity is weaker, she’s not only more prone to infections, but may also suffer more severe symptoms when she does get infected.
To protect her, make sure she washes her hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, and especially before eating. Watch the jingle below to teach your child about washing hands:
Wash and disinfect her toys regularly, and make sure all her play surfaces are clean. She should also avoid people who are obviously sick. Taking these steps will go a long way in boosting your child’s immunity.
Keep vaccinations up to date
Vaccines work by imitating an infection, says Dr Chu Hui Ping, specialist in paediatric medicine, and consultant at the Raffles Children’s Centre.
“A vaccine contains a killed or weakened part of a virus or bacteria that is responsible for infection. When a person is vaccinated, she does not fall sick because the virus or bacteria has already been killed or weakened; but her body reacts to the vaccine by producing antibodies specific to that virus or bacteria.”
“In this way, these antibodies stay within the body, and when the person gets exposed to the same live virus or bacteria, the antibodies help to kill them before the person falls sick.”
In addition to compulsory jabs, you can add optional ones like chickenpox to your kid’s vaccination schedule.
Two doses – with a minimum interval of three months – are recommended for optimal protection against the infectious disease, which can cause complications like secondary bacterial infections, abscesses and disfiguring scars, and even infections of the brain and lungs.
Minimise use of antibiotics
Asking for antibiotics when your child is ill will not boost your child’s immunity against infectious diseases.
Antibiotics help only bacterial infections like some ear infections, sinus infections or pneumonia, says Dr Barathi Rajendra, senior consultant from the general paediatrics service, Department of Paediatrics, at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
Because of the overuse of antibiotics over the years, bacteria are becoming increasingly drug-resistant and difficult to manage. Some strains are now resistant to almost every antibiotic available.
As antibiotics can weaken the immune system by killing good bacteria in the body, it’s best not to push the doctor to prescribe an antibiotic treatment for your young one when she is sick.
Antibiotics will not cure most colds, coughs, sore throats or runny noses anyway, since these conditions are due to viruses. Your child can fight these infections on her own, or the doctor can suggest over-the-counter remedies to help relieve her symptoms.
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