When a child starts going to childcare, they are exposed to a wide variety of new things – new friends, places, activities, toys and also new microbes.
Childcare is typically the first time in a child’s life where their immune system is introduced to a completely new environment.The fact that childcare centres are filled with microbes that your child’s immune system has yet to be exposed to means that it may feel like your child is constantly sick from childcare. Even the cleanest childcare in the world will experience cross-contamination amongst children.
This reality leaves a lot of parents scratching their heads and asking themselves: is getting sick the sacrifice I have to make for childcare? Or is there a way that I can learn how to keep my child from getting sick at childcare?
Luckily, there are numerous precautions you can take that will minimise the risk of your child becoming infected by contagious diseases at childcare.
Why is my child constantly sick from childcare?
It’s a common saying: where there are kids, there are germs.
While there are germs everywhere, there are a few reasons why children in childcare centres seem particularly prone to illness.
New environments will automatically increase the risk of a child coming into contact with new germs that their body has yet to create the antibodies for.
Young children don’t take the same precautions that older children and adults do when it comes to hygiene. Children are typically unaware of when they should wash their hands, wipe their nose or cover their mouth. All of this combined with the fact that young children often put toys and other objects in their mouths leaves their immune systems particularly susceptible to picking up viruses.
Despite the best practices for toy disinfection, centre cleaning and teaching children about hand hygiene, childcare centres may still seem disproportionately filled with germs. That doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions to knowing how to prevent your child from getting sick at childcare.
Isn’t it good for children to get sick?
To fight viruses, your body needs to develop disease-specific antibodies that counter the exact pathogen that has invaded your immune system. The body is particularly talented at recognising pathogens it has been previously exposed to and remembering how to create the antibodies that specifically target the pathogen.
While there are benefits to exposing yourself to microbes, you don’t have to go out of your way to expose children to viruses. Nor should you be overly cautious about protecting your children from them. Living in a germ-free world is not only unhealthy but also impossible, even if you have an infinite supply of hand sanitiser.
Children will naturally become exposed to new microbes as they interact with the world, play with other children and explore different places. Simply by sending your child to childcare, you’re already helping them boost their immune system by interacting with new microbes.
While the vast majority of viruses aren’t serious, there are some that can be – not only for your child, but the people they interact with. This makes it particularly important to take practical precautions to protect your child against diseases.
6 tips on how to prevent your child from getting sick at childcare
Here are 6 simple tips that can help boost your child’s immunity and encourage them to adopt lifelong hygiene habits.
1. Teach your child to wash their hands properly
It’s safe to say that handwashing is a powerful hygiene practice.
In fact, handwashing alone has the power to prevent one out of three diarrhoea-related illnesses. It’s an easy and effective way that protects both you and your child from catching or spreading serious viruses.
Everyone should wash their hands immediately:
- After using the toilet
- Before eating
- After petting animals
- After coughing or sneezing
- When hands are visibly dirty
- After coming into contact with bodily fluids or waste
Children won’t automatically wash their hands just by following your example. Explain the importance of handwashing to children and teach them how to do it correctly: under running water and with soap for 20 seconds.
If your child shows reluctance to independently wash their hands, try to make it a routine and reward or congratulate your child when they wash their hands properly.
2. Provide nutritious meals for your child
Nutrition plays an essential role in not only helping your child’s physical and mental development, but also their body’s ability to fight against illnesses. Poor diet and a lack of important vitamins can lead to sleep issues in children and contribute to a weakened immune system.
A healthy diet for children will include a wide variety of fresh foods from the five different food groups:
- Grain foods
- Reduced-fat dairy products
Studies have also shown that spikes in sugar intake can weaken the immune system. This makes it extra important to incorporate healthy snacks into your child’s diet like carrots and hummus or baby tomatoes rather than sugary processed food. Healthy snacks are a reliable way to fuel your child’s energy, both at childcare and at home.
3. Encourage your child to sleep well
You can probably recall a time when your body succumbed to a cold because you weren’t getting enough sleep.
We all know from experience that sleep directly influences the body’s ability to fight diseases effectively and quickly. This fact is supported by more than just our personal anecdotes: numerous studies have demonstrated that individuals who lack a sufficient sleep schedule are more likely to fall sick after being exposed to viruses.
Most of us don’t get enough sleep in our lives, including children. While children love to beg to stay up later and voice how unfair it is that adults get to watch television until later, an early night’s sleep is fundamental to their overall health. An optimum amount of sleep allows a child’s bodies to restore the energy they need to grow. Toddlers aged 1-2 should have between 12-14 hours of sleep every 24 hours, while preschool aged children between 3-5 should have around 11-13 hours of sleep per day.
If you feel your child isn’t getting enough sleep as they should be, here are some easy tips on how to encourage a healthier sleeping schedule:
- Set up and stick to a bedtime routine
- Encourage your child to relax before bedtime
- Ensure your child feels safe in their bedroom
- Limit food or drinks that aren’t water before bedtime
- Surround your child with comforting items such as blankets or soft toys
4. Stay up to date with your child’s immunisation schedule
Immunisation is a highly effective and safe way to protect both your child and the wider community against serious illnesses.
Keeping up to date with your child’s immunisation schedule is extremely important. If you have any specific questions or concerns about immunisations, contact your child’s doctor or local child health clinic.
5. Ask about your childcare’s physical environment and hygiene practices
The hygiene practices that a childcare provider undertakes will help to lower the risk of cross-contamination amongst children. This includes:
- Encouraging children to wash their hands and wipe their noses with tissues
- Disinfecting toys and utensils
- Cleaning bathrooms, kitchens, sleep areas, and play areas
- Implementing hygienic food handling and storage practices
- Incorporating a nutritious childcare menu with fresh food
- Monitoring for signs of illness amongst children
- Using appropriate nappy handling methods
To ensure that your child’s childcare provider is taking the appropriate health and safety measures, you can ask them to provide you with an update on their current hygiene protocols.
6. Know when to keep your child home from childcare
Keeping children safe from infectious diseases is a joint effort that all parents need to take on board.
It’s crucial that all parents understand when to keep their child home from childcare. Australia is lucky to have employment law that provides parents with sick and carer’s leave that can support working parents to take time off in the case that their child is experiencing symptoms of an illness.
If your child has a fever, nausea, diarrhoea, sore throat, a bad cough or any other viral symptoms, you should keep them home from childcare. Not only will this ensure that they get the rest they need to overcome the illness, but it will also protect other children and their families from catching the virus. Further guidance is available in Aurrum Kids Sick Children Policy.
Got more questions about childcare?
Aurrum Kids is a childcare and early learning centre based in Victoria and New South Wales. Our early childhood learning environment teaches children the importance of following good hygiene and nutrition habits within their day-to-day lives, both inside and outside childcare.
If you have any further questions about how to prevent your child from getting sick at childcare, get in contact with our team today.