How Can I Keep My Kids Healthy During the Holiday Season?

Photo Illustration: Aly Lim

We know that every holiday season, parents have lots of questions – whether it’s how to deal with stress-inducing in-laws or ways to keep their kids healthy. That’s why, this year, we tapped four advice columnists and experts to help us. Enter: The Holiday Nightline, where we’re answering your most burning questions about parenting during the holidays. Keep reading to hear from Stephanie Liu, MD, a family physician at the University of Alberta Hospital and the author of the blog Life of Dr. Mom.

One universal concern POPSUGAR readers expressed was wanting to know how to keep their kids, as well as the whole family, healthy during the winter months and holiday travel. Below, Dr. Stephanie shares her best advice for doing so.

Dear Readers,

‘Tis the season of excitement, wonder, and joy! It’s such a wonderful time of the year, and many of us really look forward to enjoying this special time with family and friends. However, the holidays also come with extra stress and worry – particularly around our kids getting sick. We’re more susceptible to picking something up during this time, likely because of a combination of factors, including viruses that are particularly abundant during winter months, the extra time we’re spending indoors, and all the holiday activities, which can lead people feeling run-down and sleep deprived.

One of the key ways to reduce the risk of picking up winter ills and chills is by practicing good hygiene. This includes frequent handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding close contact with sick individuals. This is something the whole family can make an extra effort to do to ensure that everyone is feeling well enough to enjoy the festivities.

Another recommended tip is to avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, as germs can get into your body through mucous membranes on the face – eyes, nose, and mouth – which act as pathways to the throat and lungs. Many of us touch our faces without even knowing it, so it’s a good idea to make a conscious effort to avoid this if you can. Additionally, getting vaccinated against viruses such as the flu (influenza) provides additional protection – not only for you and your family, but also others around you.

Your mental health as a parent is just as important as your whole family’s physical health.

There are also some lifestyle adjustments we can make to support our childrens’ immune systems (and our own!). First off, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can enhance your child’s natural immune defenses. In fact, a study published in 2022 in the journal Nutrients showed that children with asthma who increased their fruit and vegetable intake had less asthma exacerbations.

Related: How Can I Manage Holiday Parenting Stress?

Next, getting enough sleep is critical for our immune systems. Lack of sleep impairs our ability to fight off pathogens, and studies show that insufficient sleep in both the short and long term can increase your risk of getting sick. Please also keep in mind that children need more sleep than adults, so it’s important to ensure your kiddos are getting enough rest overnight (and across any naps if they’re little) so that they have enough energy to get through the day.

While vitamin D is best known for its effect on calcium metabolism and for keeping our bones healthy, it appears to have benefits in preventing the common cold as well. One study found that vitamin D supplements can help prevent upper respiratory tract infections, especially in those who have a deficiency. In Canada, it is recommended that vitamin D supplements are taken year-round. Have a chat with your doctor to determine what dose would be right for you.

It is also important to dress your child (and yourself) appropriately for the cooler weather. Some parts of North America can be very chilly, and children can get hypothermia and frostbite. To keep them warm, opt for layered clothing, including hats, gloves, scarves, and also waterproof boots. The beauty of layers is that they can easily be removed and adjusted according to comfort levels.

Your mental health as a parent is just as important as your whole family’s physical health. I look forward to the holiday season every year, but there have been years that I have felt stressed and overwhelmed. Over the years, I’ve realized the importance of being kind to myself and that shortcuts are OK! For example, I love cooking and bringing home-cooked meals to friends, but that can be time-consuming. On days when I feel too busy, I will bring a prepackaged gift or meal instead – I’ve realized that it’s the thought that counts! Next, I try to find time for myself, even if it’s just 10 minutes every day. Every morning, I try to wake up 15 minutes before everyone else and have a quiet cup of coffee and plan out my day – it helps put me in the right frame of mind for the day.

Whatever your plans are over the holiday season, I wish you all a happy, healthy, and well-rested break!

– Dr. Stephanie

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