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10 Doctor-Approved Tricks for Helping Kids Avoid Getting Sick This Fall

Keep your kid out of the doctor's office and flu-free this school year by following these doctor-recommended tips.

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Skip the hand dryers

You’d think that using one of those hand dryers would be safer when it comes to germs, but recent research suggests otherwise. (They’re also really hard on your hands.) According to a study conducted by the University of Westminster, London, hand dryers spread 1,300 times as many germs around the bathroom than regular ol’ paper towel. Researchers found that the dryers fire the bacteria right into a child’s face. Dr. Gustavo Ferrer, MD, author of Cough Cures, recommends having your child use paper towels instead. Washing should be done with soap for about 15 to 20 seconds. “Instead of counting, get creative, sing a common song together like ‘Happy Birthday to you,'” he says. “Rinse them well under running water. Then dry with paper towel.”

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Cut back on dairy

If your children are coming down with a cold or you notice a runny nose or a congested, deep cough, consider limiting their dairy intake. According to Dr. Ferrer, dairy products like milk and cheese make the mucus thicker and can worsen the cough and post-nasal drip. Once your child is feeling better, you can reintroduce dairy. If your child can’t imagine giving up a morning cup of chocolate milk, he or she doesn’t have to. Try these 11 smart dairy swaps.

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Heat up chicken noodle soup

Chicken noodle soup curing a cold isn’t just a myth isn’t just a myth. It actually works. According to a study conducted at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, researchers found that chicken soup contains ingredients that ease upper respiratory tract infections. “We especially emphasized the value of homemade chicken soup,” says Dr. Ferrer. Don’t take the easy way out with a canned version—they’re loaded with sodium and don’t deliver the same benefits as homemade. The study suggests Grandma’s Recipe, which contains chicken, sweet potato, onions, parsnips, and turnips, among a few additional ingredients.

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Nix the sugary drinks

Sugary drinks like sodas and juices don’t just tack on pounds: They can also cause chronic nasal obstruction—basically a permanent stuffy and/or runny nose. Saline sprays, available at your local pharmacy can help with the congestion. “For nasal obstruction, I recommend using Xlear Nasal Spray, which is a non-GMO, natural saline solution that uses xylitol to decrease the adherence of bacteria, viruses, and irritants to mucosa,” says Dr. Ferrer. “Decreasing the possibility of producing an infectious process or allergic reaction, Xylitol is superior to saline alone since saline produces dryness and mucosal damage.”

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Teach your child not to share

Sharing may be caring, but not everything is shareable if you truly care. Toys and books are fine, but water bottles and foods should be off limits. “Sharing water bottles or any drink is a potential problem. Even with the smallest sip, saliva gets into the drink,” says Dr. Ferrer. “Viruses and bacteria’s live in saliva and it’s also the way acute viral infections are passed from one person to the other.” Don’t forget to teach your kid these 17 forgotten manners that every child should know.

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Use the crook of the elbow to cover up

Start teaching your child to cough and sneeze into their elbows at a young age, rather than covering their mouths with their hands. To stop the spreading of germs, the CDC recommends covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. However, it’s unlikely your child will have a tissue handy (hey—sometimes sneezes come unannounced). The CDC says using an elbow is a fine alternative. Obviously using your hand to cover your mouth is better than doing nothing at all, but germs are much more likely to spread via hand than elbow or tissue. Your child should also head to the bathroom and wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. If that’s not possible, hand sanitizer works too.

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Sleep, sweet sleep

Ensuring your child gets enough Zzz’s each night not only keeps them happy, it has health benefits, too. More sleep means better brain function, and a child with better focus in school. But just how much sleep does your child need? Well it depends a lot on age. The Sleep Foundation recommends preschoolers (ages 3 to 5) get anywhere from 10 to 13 hours of sleep each night, school-aged children (6 to 13) get 9 to 11 hours, and teenagers (ages 14 to 17) 8 to 10 hours. Anything less than 7 or 8 hours is not enough. Struggling with getting your little one to bed on time? Here are 7 ways to get your toddler sleeping sooner—so you all can get some rest.

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Wash sheets and blankets often

Washing bedding is a very tedious process. (Check out these tips to make laundry day more bearable.) But washing sheets and blankets at least once a week is important to keep your child healthy and germ-free. If your child naps at school, don’t forget to wash that bedding too. In fact, consider washing school bedding twice a week. “Blankets and sheets can harbor germs. Kids place their heads over and over in a pool of secretion,” says Dr. Ferrer. “It is a good idea to wash them with warm water at least once a week.”

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Stock backpacks with hand sanitizer

Think of all the things your child touches at school. Books, toys, the playground, their face, and their friends. So. Many. Germs. While hand sanitizer certainly isn’t a substitute for a good scrub with soap and water, it is better than not washing at all. Teach your child to use hand sanitizer frequently to fight off pesky cold and flu germs. The CDC suggests using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Just note that sanitizer does not kill all bacteria, which is why hand washing with soap and water is extremely important. Improper hand washing can leave you and your child susceptible to germs. Make sure you’re not making common hand-washing mistakes.

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Keep ’em active

Kids who are active have stronger bones and muscles, leaner bodies, are less likely to be overweight, have lower blood pressure, and a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Studies even show that children who get regular exercise get sick less often; when they do fall ill, their symptoms are 40 percent less severe than their peers who don’t exercise. Instead of taking your child out for a run, make exercise fun. Sign them up for the after school soccer league or encourage them to head outside and play tag with friends. These simple tricks will get your kids moving in no time.