A strong immune system is crucial for fighting off pesky germs and illnesses. But health and well-being are also essential ingredients to academic and social success – and our immune system plays a significant role in both. When children feel healthy and energized, they’re more likely to engage in school activities and have positive social interactions.
In fact, when it comes to health behaviours, students who report A's have better habits compared to those who get mostly B's. Those who report B’s have better habits than those who get mostly C's, and so forth.
Parents and guardians: promoting a healthy lifestyle that supports immunity should be a top priority as we prepare children for the school year ahead. With a little extra attention and care, we can give kids the best possible chance to thrive, both inside and outside the classroom.
Focus on nutrition support
When it comes to boosting kids' immunity for the school year, a balanced diet takes centre stage. We get a lot of key nutrients that support a healthy immune system from our diet. So, what should kids be eating?
Think colourful and diverse: fresh fruits and vegetables are brimming with essential vitamins and antioxidants, while lean proteins like poultry, fish, and legumes provide the necessary building blocks for a strong immune system. Don't forget whole grains, which supply fibre and energy for overall well-being.
But how can parents make sure their children are getting these nutrients? If your kids are picky eaters, stick to foods you know they like. Avoid packing food you want them to eat but will likely be wasted or eaten by someone else.
Take a look at these lunch-box friendly ideas.
Whole-wheat mini pitas with hummus, cucumber rounds, and a piece of fruit
A serving of last night’s leftovers, cherry tomatoes, and a yogourt
Salad made from leftover pasta or rice and your child’s favourite vegetables, with a side of fresh-cut fruit
By transforming nutrient-rich foods into exciting meals and snacks, parents can nourish their kids while ensuring they're well-prepared to tackle the school year with resilience.
Prioritize sleep for immune resilience
A good night's sleep provides children with the energy they need to succeed in school and daily activities. But beyond simply feeling drowsy or grumpy, lack of sleep can actually impair a child's immune function, making them more vulnerable to illness and infections, and less able to fight it off. That's why it's important to establish consistent sleep routines for, based on their age groups.
For a consistent sleep routine, create a bedtime ritual that helps signal to your child's body and brain that it's time for sleep. It's also critical to limit screen time before bed, as the blue light from screens can interfere with the production of melatonin, making it harder for kids to fall asleep and stay asleep. Here are a few activities to include in a bedtime routine instead:
Reading a story
Dimming the lights
Mindfulness or relaxation techniques
Hone in on hygiene practices
Young children's immune systems are still developing, making them more susceptible to infections that are commonly transmitted at school. Crowded classrooms and shared spaces create a breeding ground for germs, and it's no surprise that kids catch colds so frequently. But equipping them with simple hygiene cues can help them dodge pesky bugs.
Handwashing: Teach your kiddos to scrub their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds – that's like singing “Happy Birthday” twice. And make sure they hit all the nooks and crannies – fingers, nails, and thumbs included.
Respiratory hygiene: Sneezing into the crook of the elbow, instead of the hands, keeps germs from going airborne and infecting others.
Personal cleanliness: Encourage kids to avoid sharing water bottles or snacks with friends – those habits can make a huge difference in keeping germs at bay.
Encourage physical activity
Engaging in regular physical activity has been shown to significantly enhance immune function in children. When kids participate in age-appropriate exercises and activities, their bodies respond by producing a diverse array of immune cells that are crucial for warding off infections.
There are significant mental health benefits, too. A study found that 12-year-olds who engaged in 60 minutes of exercise daily experienced a notable 10% decrease in symptoms of depression by the time they reached age 18.
And when this habit is maintained into adulthood, there’s a 30% less chance of depression or anxiety.
Incorporating simple yet effective exercises into children's daily routines can make physical activity enjoyable and engaging:
This ensures that they stay active without perceiving it as a chore, making it easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Teach stress management skills
When stress activates the body's fight or flight response, it triggers the release of hormones like cortisol, which, over time, can weaken immune responses. This is particularly relevant during the school year, as academic pressures and social challenges can induce stress in children.
The right techniques
To counter this, teaching stress management techniques is crucial. Introducing children to mindfulness exercises, deep breathing techniques, and outdoor play can significantly lower stress levels. Nurturing their creativity, hobbies, and allocating sufficient time for relaxation also contributes to stress relief.
Engaging in activities that allow the parent to model good emotional regulation can help children feel secure and supported. Research shows that children and adolescents who have supportive relationships experience lower stress and greater emotional resilience. Quality time that strengthens the parent-child bond can be simple:
Play board games
Engage in sports
Play dress up
Do arts and crafts
Plus, parents should actively listen to their children's feelings and concerns about school, offering a safe space for discussions. By addressing stress and fostering emotional well-being, you can empower kids with the tools they need to thrive both academically and immunologically.
Offering the right support
As you gear up for another school year, take note: bolstering kids' immunity goes beyond quick fixes and isolated remedies. Ensuring a healthy school year calls for a comprehensive approach to supporting the immune system – with a focus on physical, mental, and social well-being.
Evidence-based healthy habits should be combined with personalized support from a healthcare professional. For parents who need support or guidance for their loved ones, Dialogue’s care team is available 24/7. Our health practitioners, mental health specialists, and well-being experts can provide your family with tailored support, allowing you to devote your attention to what truly matters.
Questions or concerns about supporting kids' health for the school year?