As parents, it can be heartbreaking to see your little ones falling prey to illness frequently. While getting sick is a normal part of childhood, it may become a reason to worry if your child starts to fall sick very often.
It disrupts the daily routine of children as they feel physical discomfort and loss of energy accompanied by feelings of pain, anxiety, fear, and stress. The parents should therefore ensure that while working towards the kids’ physical health, their mental and emotional health is also taken care of.
Children should be taught that being sick is normal so that they do not feel emotional trauma when unwell.
Although illnesses cannot be prevented, certain steps may help in improving your child’s immunity and mitigate the incidences of falling sick. Keep reading to know the 20 ways by which you can do so.
1. Breastfeed your Child
Breastfeeding is an age-old and effective means of developing the immune system of newborns. Colostrum, the thick and sticky yellowish milk, often known as the “first milk” that is secreted after child-birth is full of nutrients and antibodies.
Colostrum is very high in carbohydrates, proteins, and antibodies. Its low-fat content makes colostrum easily digestible for newborns (1).
If you are breastfeeding your child during his/her initial few months, it helps increase your child’s immunity. This is likely to protect your child from middle ear infections, respiratory disorders, gut infections, diarrhea, constipation, diabetes, child leukemia, obesity, and skin-related problems like eczema (2).
Summary: The first milk secreted after childbirth, Colostrum, is a rich source of antibodies that develops your child’s immunity to several ailments including diarrhea, gut infections, respiratory problems, diabetes, and eczema.
2. Let them Sleep Like a Child
Sleep plays an essential role in the overall development of children. The duration of sleep required varies according to the age, however, it is not only the amount of sleep but the quality of sleep as well that matters (3).
The relation between sleep and the immune system is indirect and complex. A few studies claim that sleep deprivation may lead to a comparatively lower response to vaccines.
Sleep-deprived children tend to develop lower antibodies through immunization than children who are sleeping enough. Hence, it is important to ensure that your child sleeps peacefully and wakes up rejuvenated (4).
Summary: Sleep plays a vital role in your child’s immune system. A good night’s sleep is critical to the physical and mental development of children. Ensure that your child sleeps peacefully through the night.
3. Give Them a Balanced Meal
The importance of giving a balanced meal to children is well-known. It ensures that your child is getting all the essential nutrients, vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and minerals in the desired quantity.
Instead of feeding them a few foods in high quantity, try including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, eggs, lean meat, and dairy products to the little one’s diet to help them grow as a healthy adult (5).
It is also important to ensure that you do not coerce the child to eat, but develop an interest in different varieties of food.
Summary: A balanced diet is important to ensure that your child is getting all the essential nutrients in the desired amounts. Include lots of variety to your child’s plate and develop a liking for different foods right from childhood.
4. Get the Shots on Time
A very important step that you can take towards boosting your child’s immunity is ensuring that their vaccination schedule is strictly followed. The immune system of young children is weak and they are more vulnerable to some diseases which can be prevented through vaccination (6).
Vaccines prepare your child’s body to fight off infections through the development of antibodies in the body for that particular infection. A vaccination schedule is provided by the pediatrics after childbirth. Keep a track of this and make sure that all the vaccinations are done on time (7).
Summary: Vaccines are absolutely essential for your child as they create a shield against vaccine-preventable diseases. Make sure that all the vaccines are given on time to the child.
5. Inspire Them to Play in the Sun
These days, the kids are seen spending most of their time staying indoors. But, this can have serious repercussions on their immune system. Exposure to the sun’s life-giving light is very important for the children (8).
While too much sunlight can enhance the risks relating to ultraviolet exposure, a deficiency of sun exposure may disrupt the synthesis of vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D is important for ensuring bone development in children and avoiding retarded growth (9).
Summary: Sunlight helps your child absorb Vitamin D in the body which is critical for healthy bones. Encourage your child to spend some time outside under the Sun.
6. Have an Active Lifestyle
If you want your child to stay away from illnesses, it is important to encourage them to have an active lifestyle.
Motivate your child to do some physical exercises such as yoga, running, and aerobics, create an interest in dancing, cycling, and swimming, or engage them in some outdoor sports like basketball, cricket, and tennis (10).
Make sure that you set an example for them. Exercising and playing together with your child will not only make these activities fun but also enhance the emotional connection with the parents.
Summary: It is very important to encourage children to adopt an active lifestyle to build strong immunity. Let them choose an activity of their interest and enjoy it.
7. Take your Multivitamins Everyday
It is always better to not rely on supplements, but children are often fussy eaters. At times, it becomes challenging to deal with their food-related tantrums, or there are times when they are sick, not eating much, and feeling low in energy.
For all such reasons, it is always advisable to add multivitamins to their daily diet, but with a lot of caution. Take the multivitamins only when prescribed by your child’s pediatrician.
Do not give an overdose of multivitamins to the kids because it can have adverse effects (11). Multivitamins can also help your child to regain the lost energy post-illness.
Summary: Multivitamins are also a great option to provide essential nutrients to fussy eaters. However, caution must be practiced while choosing the correct supplement for your child.
8. Say “No” to Processed Food
Who would not want to get a bite of luscious candies, toothsome chips, biscuits, and crackers? With their eye-catching packaging and irresistible flavors, processed foods are every child’s favorite (12).
Parents too sometimes find them as an easy alternative for pacifying the in-between meal hunger of the kids. But, these processed foods are loaded with high levels of sugar, salt, fats, and artificial ingredients (13). Processed foods include anything that has been processed and altered from its original form.
During the process, the nutrients are lost and they become unhealthy. Eating higher amounts of processed food can damage your child’s immunity.
Summary: Processed foods should be a big no-no for your child. Processed foods are often loaded with artificial colors and ingredients that can damage your child’s immunity.
9. Ensure They Stay Hydrated Always
We often overlook what wonders water can do to our health. It is extremely important to keep an eye on your little one’s fluid intake throughout the day. Fluids in the form of water, fresh fruit juices, vegetable soups, and milk should be provided to children in enough quantity to help their bodies flush out the toxins (14).
Dehydration in children can affect their physical and cognitive performances. Fluids help the body to produce lymph which is the immune system’s carrier of white blood cells (WBCs) and nutrients across all the body tissues (15).
Summary: Water plays an important role in ensuring overall good health. Make sure that your little one is taking enough fluids to support mental and physical development, and building strong immunity.
10. Teach Them to Practice Good Hygiene
By teaching your child to practice good hygiene right from the beginning, you can help them to enjoy healthy adulthood. Washing hands with soap before and after meals, after using the washroom, and returning back home from outside should be a norm (16).
Additionally, it is very important to regularly cut the nails and keep them clean. You must also teach your child to maintain the hygiene of private parts at an early age so that it inculcates in their habit. Hygiene can prevent a lot of infections and boost immunity in children (17).
Summary: Hygiene lessons should be provided to your child since early childhood so that it becomes a part of the habit. Do not overlook the hygiene of any of the body parts to develop a strong immunity.
11. Incorporate Rainbows in Your Child’s Diet
Colors play a crucial role in your child’s diet. Rainbow diet is the dietary pattern that ensures that your child is getting all the essential nutrients in his diet.
It is an interesting way to include fruits and vegetables of different colors over a week’s time. Rainbow diet suggests to include greens like leafy vegetables, broccoli, beans, and kiwis to your child’s diet. You can add purple and blue by including foods such as eggplant, blueberries, and black raisins (18).
Whites can be added in the form of onion, bananas, turnips, and potatoes while red fruits and veggies such as apple, tomatoes, pomegranate, and cherries should also be incorporated into the diet. Yellows such as mango and lemons along with orange natural foods such as oranges, carrots, and apricots are important to the diet (19).
Since fruits and vegetables of different colors contain different nutrients, it would help your child in getting a wide variety of nutrients from the diet.
Summary: Rainbow diet can be a fun way to try with your child to ensure that none of the essential nutrients are missed in his diet. Add fruits and vegetables of different colors and let them gain the benefits of all.
12. Help Your Child Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Maintaining a healthy body weight in childhood can have long-run impacts on health. There are increased health risks if your child is overweight or under-weight (20).
Thus, it is important to regularly check the weight of your child and maintain it within recommended limits, in accordance with the Body Mass Index (BMI). By providing a healthy diet and encouraging an active lifestyle, this goal can be easily achieved (21).
Summary: Keeping a track of your child’s weight can be important to his immunity. Overweight and under-weight children tend to have a weaker immune system.
13. Cut Down the White Poison (Sugar)
It can surprise many parents that sugar actually works like poison for your child’s health. Although you cannot refrain your kid from sweets completely, it is important to control.
Too much sugar intake in the form of gummies, candies, chocolates, juices, sweets, cakes, and colas can ultimately lead to an enhanced risk of diabetes, hypertension, cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases (22).
You can replace white sugar with healthier options like jaggery and honey.
Summary: Sugar is like a poison to the body and it is suggested to cut down the white sugar in your child’s diet. Try replacing sugar with healthier options like honey and jaggery.
14. Avoid Second Hand Smoke
In order to boost your child’s immunity, it is important that a healthier environment is provided at home.
If anyone at home has the habit of smoking, children get exposed to second-hand smoke. This weakens their immunity to respiratory infections, thereby raising their vulnerability to asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia (23), (24).
It is thus important, as parents, to ensure that your child can breathe in smoke-free air.
Summary: You must try to provide your child with a healthy environment by avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke can impair their immunity to respiratory ailments.
15. Do not Give Antibiotics Unless Necessary
When children fall sick, we are often left with no choice but to give them antibiotics to kill the infection-causing bacteria. But, it should be noted that antibiotics should be given to children only when they are essential (25).
Antibiotics not only kill the bad bacteria but the good ones as well, leading to impaired immunity. Studies claim that excess dosage of antibiotics to younger children may lead to obesity, food allergies, viral infections, and a damaged immune system (26).
Summary: Antibiotics should be given to children only when there is no other option. Antibiotics kill the good bacteria along with the bad ones in the body, thereby weakening the overall immune system.
16. Friends and Loving Pets
This may sound a bit strange but studies reveal that children who grow up with pets around at the home tend to have a stronger immune system than those who don’t have pets.
The risks of pet allergies and respiratory tract infections are lower among children who have pets in the house. Not only the physical illnesses, but the emotional well-being is improved if you allow your child to have friends and pets (27).
Encourage your child to play around with other children to relieve stress and learn social skills.
Summary: Friends and pets can play crucial roles in your child’s immune system. Children who grow up with friends and pets tend to have stronger immunity.
17. Know your Superfoods
There are some “superfoods” that work wonders for boosting a child’s immunity. One such superfood is yogurt which has excellent probiotics and helps to improve the digestive system of your child.
Citrus fruits like oranges and lemons are a rich source of Vitamin C, thus help to protect your child against cold and flu (28). Sweet Potato is yet another superfood that contains an antioxidant called beta-carotene which helps to boost your child’s immunity (29).
Sweet Potato is also abundant in Vitamin A, thus promoting eye health in children. Others may include garlic, ginger, nuts such as walnuts, and almonds, fruits like papaya and kiwi, some varieties of fish, etc.
Summary: Include superfoods like yogurt, sweet potato, nuts, and citrus fruits in your child’s diet. These superfoods are abundant in essential nutrients.
18. Trust Your Herbs and Spices
Studies have confirmed that by including particular herbs and spices in your child’s diet, you can help them boost their immunity.
A few of such herbs and spices that are commonly available in our kitchens are turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, basil, nutmeg, fennel seeds, lemongrass, and cumin. These are full of antioxidants and loaded with anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory properties (30).
Adding a little of these would not only enhance the flavor of food but also protect your child against several ailments. However, these herbs and spices need to be consumed in moderate quantities by the children.
Summary: Kitchen spices and herbs can be a great option to improve your child’s immunity. Turmeric, black pepper, nutmeg, and basil are a few such names that should be added to the child’s diet.
19. Essential Oils
Essential oils have been known to have multiple health benefits for children since the ancient past. Essential oils are used to relieve stress and colic, promote sleep, and improve the overall well-being of young kids.
Essential oils are the natural extracts of flowers, seeds, bark, stems, and roots of plants. Since essential oils exist in the concentrated form, a lot of caution is necessary before you use one for your child (31).
It is suggested to not use essential oil if your baby is younger than 3 months. For babies above 3 months, essential oils can be used, but you must know which oil is best for your child, and the proper application method.
Summary: You should not underestimate the power of essential oils. They can help promote a good night’s sleep, relieve colic, and improve the overall well-being of your child.
20. Have a Healthy Routine
Maintaining a healthy routine is absolutely essential for your child’s health and immunity (32). Make a schedule of main meals and snacks timings and encourage your child to adhere to it as much as possible.
Similarly, there should be enough time for recreation as well including sports and hobbies. However, this should not turn monotonous for your child. Make it fun for children to follow the routine.
Summary: Make a routine for your child and try to ensure that it is followed regularly. By having a fixed schedule for everything, you can promote your child’s physical and cognitive health.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Are vaccination and immunization the same thing?
Vaccination is the process of introducing a weak antigen into your body to produce the required antibody. This helps our body to get immune to a specific disease without really having it.
Immunization on the other hand is the process by which you get protected against a disease through vaccination. These two terms are often used interchangeably but are different.
By what age does a child’s immune system fully develop?
At around the age of 7-8 years, children have a fully developed immune system. Infants have some antibodies that are transferred to them through the mother’s placenta.
Breast feds are less likely to develop infections because of the antibodies that they get from the mother’s milk. Children though get exposed more to the microorganisms. Good nutrition, proper hygiene, and a healthy lifestyle can help them be stronger.
How do you know if your child has a weak immune system?
If your child has a weak immune system then he/she will be:
- Always with a cold or cough
- Have tummy troubles most of the time
- Slow-healing wounds
- Is always tired
- Catch infections frequently
Apart from that, the child with weak immunity might have recurrent episodes of respiratory problems such as pneumonia, meningitis of the skin, inflammation, and infections. If your child has some or most of these symptoms, please refer to your pediatrician and do whatever needs to be done.
The Final Note
By making little changes in the dietary pattern and promoting an active lifestyle, you can give your child a healthy future. But, make sure that you do not impose things on the children else they turn rebellious. Children should be actively involved in the entire process of getting healthy.
Children learn the most from their parents hence it is important to set an example for them. Adopt a healthy lifestyle, quit smoking and alcohol, give time to your child to expect them to follow the routine set for them by you.
Also, it is important to ensure that children do not feel mental stress and emotional trauma when they are not well. Remember, immunity is not developed in a day; persistent endeavors are required in this direction.