8 Ways to Keep Your Child Healthy through the Winter Months

mom and kids playing in snow

As the weather turns colder and the daylight hours become shorter, there are important steps you can take to keep your child healthy. Some obvious things include:

1. Keeping warm – we tend to over-bundle kids compared to ourselves. A child needs the same number of layers as the parent plus one extra layer. This is true for all ages, including newborns and young infants. Premature infants need two extra layers. Hats, gloves, warm socks, etc., are recommended to help prevent frostbite. Be sure to check infants' hands often when wearing gloves as their fingers may entangle in the threads, cutting off their blood supply!

2. Home: temperature at home should range from 65F to a maximum of 80F. Carbon monoxide detectors should be checked to ensure they are working properly.

3. Immunizations—it is as important for the caregiver to be up-to-date on vaccines—especially for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) and influenza—as their children. Unvaccinated caregivers may pose a risk to their children by being carriers or getting affected with a disease due to lack of immunization.

4. Hand-washing should be done for 20 seconds, which is singing the "Happy Birthday" song twice. Hand sanitizers are fine. However, these are not good for prevention against diarrhea-related illness.

5. Space heaters should be at least three feet away from any surface and should be turned off when not in use. Be careful, as children tend to mimic parents who warm hands in front of heaters!

    Some not so obvious things...

6. Mood—Do not stop or wean off any antidepressant or antianxiety medications over the winter months. Watch for any worsening of these symptoms as well.  "Seasonal Affective Disorder" is a mood disorder leading to symptoms of depression during winter months when exposure to sunlight is low. A child's symptoms simply may appear to be a worsening of ADHD symptoms or anxiety, or there may be more "acting out" or moodiness. Talk to your pediatrician and consider if your child is in need of light therapy or temporary medication.

7. Social media—during winter months, we tend to be less active and it becomes harder to monitor a child's media exposure. With so much homework being completed online, it is hard to follow the recommended maximum two-hour limit for daily screen-time. Here are some tips:

  • Exercise: Buy bike gear to turn an outdoor bike into a stationary indoor bike; play jump-rope games indoors; climb stairs with older children; choose Wii Fit-type games instead of stationary video games.
  • Be a "cool" parent while keeping your child safe from media predators: be involved! Learn about privacy options and parental controls for TV, You-tube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

8. Resources:

  • Tips on how to ensure child's safety while avoiding fights at home are available at "#socialmediachildrenteensandparents"
  • A great Web site for evidence-based advice by pediatricians is: www.healthychildren.org

Dr. Bhateja is a pediatrician at SwedishAmerican’s Rock Valley Clinic and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at UIC College of Medicine—Rockford. She is currently accepting new patients. For more information, please call (815) 637-6200.