We just made it through rounds 1 and 2 of this winter's first sicknesses, and let me tell you, a full day stuck in the house with two young kids can feel REALLY long!! Between sleep deprivation, irritable moods, constant laundry and a subsistence diet of rice, crackers, broth and ginger tea, I am ready for a return to normal life (which will feel like a break after all this!).
Before I address the topic at hand, however, I will add this reminder, both for myself and for anyone else reading this page: it is vitally important for your children to get sick!! Our immune systems essentially work through learning and memory, and how do we learn and remember? Through practice and repetition of course!! So, while illness is generally unpleasant and certainly inconvenient, it plays a very important role in educating and strengthening your child's immune system. This is extremely important for life-long health and wellness!
That being said, however, there are definitely things we can do to decrease the frequency, duration and severity of our children's illnesses, which makes the whole experience much more tolerable for all involved. Inspired by our recent never-ending bout of stomach sickness, I put together this list of suggestions to help support the immune system during the winter months in hopes of making flu season more survivable for us all!
Here are some great ways to support immune function (for kids and adults):
1. Stay warm! Keeping kids appropriately dressed for the weather can save a lot of energy and support wellness. Make sure they wear appropriate layers and accessories and dress them as warm as you would dress yourself. If you are consistent with enforcing layers, it becomes much less of an argument when it is time to go outside.
2. Diet is hugely important! There are a few considerations here:
Eat seasonally - this does not just mean choosing foods that are growing locally (though that is certainly beneficial too). Consider the season in food preparation methods. Winter is a time for well-cooked, warming and easy-to-digest foods. Think about soups, casseroles, roasted veggies and warming spices - cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, etc. One way to think about it is this: the stomach's job is to turn everything into a 100º soup. The closer your food is to that when it goes in, the less energy your body has to expend breaking it down and/or warming it up. This is one of the biggest problems I see with our culture's ideas about nutrition: parents think they are feeding their kids well by giving them lots of raw veggies, cold sandwiches and chilled dairy products. This is a quick road to depleting the body's energy and increasing the production of phlegm from a Chinese medical perspective.
Decrease foods that contribute to phlegm, and those that do not support immune function: dairy, sugar, oily/greasy foods, processed foods and foods with artificial ingredients. Look out for hidden sugar in packaged foods and avoid giving fruit juice to your kiddos.
Include foods that support immunity: good fats (coconut, olive, butter), a good variety of fruits and veggies, mushrooms (shiitake powder is a wonderful way to sneak these into kid food), onions, ginger, garlic and burdock, even small amounts of honey (I will post soon with recipes that will give you ideas of how to use all these, especially for kids!).
3. Consider adding a few nutritional supplements. The big ones I use are probiotics, elderberry syrup and Vitamin D (in the winter). Also, alcohol-free echinacea is a great thing to have on hand at the onset of colds and flus (please consult a health-care professional if you have questions about using any of these!).
4. Get educated about other natural remedies to use to support wellness. There are a number of great books out there (one I like is Naturally Healthy Babies and Children by Aviva Jill Romm), as well as some wonderful practitioners that can help you support your kids through many of their health challenges. I work with kids via Chinese Medicine, but there are many other therapies (many that I use with my kids too) that are very helpful: homeopathics, essential oils, herbal medicine, bodywork, nutritional therapies, etc. These can be particularly helpful for chronic or recurrent issues, and can prevent the need for antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals.
5. Finally, don't forget about stress! Kids are easily overwhelmed and this can be an important factor in emotional and physical resilience. Try not to over-schedule your children, make sure they have adequate time for rest, sleep and play, and avoid exposing them to over-stimulating environments for more than short periods. This can be particularly easy to overlook around the holidays, as there is so much to do and so much activity going on everywhere. Also, don't forget kids are very sensitive to their parent's stress levels, so try to take care of yourself too!
In closing, if this list feels a bit overwhelming to you, I will leave you with a Chinese proverb: "everything in moderation". This means you don't have to be perfect all the time, that balance is the key and that even things considered to be healthy should not be overdone. I hope this list inspires you to make some positive changes for both yourself and your little ones!