It seems like every school year is the same: as soon as the classes begin, colds, stomach flus, sore throats and head lice start running rampant among school children. Teaching your child a few healthy tricks will make it easier to avoid all of the germs their classmates are passing around. Most young children understand that germs cause them to feel sick and should be avoided. However, they have no clue how germs can be passed to them by their friends. Be sure to have frequent discussions throughout the school year with your child on how they can avoid catching a virus.

Teach your child the importance of handwashing. Many children feel they are too busy having fun to be bothered with the chore of washing their hands. However, if you frequently stress the importance of this simple act, they will eventually understand. Many children have no idea how long to scrub their hands for, so teach them the simple trick of singing “Happy Birthday” or the “ABCs” while scrubbing. A small bottle of hand sanitizer is great to pack in your child’s backpack and kids often find this an acceptable compromise since applying a hand

Avoid allowing your child to wear hats, if possible. While it may seem like a good idea to put a warm hat on your child during the cold winter months, head lice is easily spread when children wear each other’s hats. You would be surprised how often hats are swapped from head to head, so it is best to simply avoid hats altogether as often as possible. If there is an outbreak of head lice at your child’s school, place all of their clothing items in a hot dryer for 20 minutes. Items such as coats, hats, mittens, jackets, pillowcases, and clothing should all be blasted by hot air in the dryer. The heat will kill any head lice that may have crawled onto your child’s things. If your child has long hair, put their hair up in braids, a ponytail or bun during the lice outbreak since loose hair can easily brush against another child’s lice infested head or clothing.

Children are taught the importance of sharing from the time they are very young, so when their friend with a runny nose asks for a bite of their lunch, they often say yes without thinking about spreading germs. Teach your child the importance of avoiding germs by instructing them to say “no” to sharing food and drinks. Or teach them to simply break off a piece of their lunch to give to their friend, rather than allowing them to take a bite. Teach your child that their water bottle or juice box should never be shared, nor should they ask to share from a friend’s drink.

Give your child’s immune system a chance to fight all of those germs by fueling their bodies with healthy food and allowing for plenty of sleep at night. A tired child or one who isn’t getting the right vitamins and nutrients is much more susceptible to catching a virus. Encourage your child to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables or take a vitamin supplement if you are dealing with a picky eater.

Finally, keep your child home when they are sick. Even if you child adopts these healthy habits, they may still catch a virus or two during the school year. Keep them home if they have a fever and for 24 hours after the fever has broken. Children with severe colds, diarrhea or who are vomiting should be kept home until their symptoms subside. Use your discretion with milder symptoms such as a slight stuffy nose or sore throat. Other parents will appreciate that you’ve kept your sick child away from the classroom and your child will appreciate a day of rest with mom or dad while they recuperate.