Maintaining a child’s overall health and emotional wellness has become a significant challenge for parents as the country increasingly advises families to quarantine indoors. Our homes have expanded from places dedicated to family time to our offices, children’s schools, and sole sources of socialization.
Combining this adjustment with a shrinking social circle can result in significant stress among children. Dr. Marisa Clasas, a clinical psychologist at a clinic in Makati, offers simple strategies for keeping your child’s well-being at its best during this COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Create better quality sleep
A recent study conducted by a team from the University of Tübingen in Germany found a mechanism linking sleep to the functioning of the immune system. They found that good quality, uninterrupted sleep can boost the effectiveness of certain specialized immune cells called T cells that play a major role in defense against intracellular pathogens such as viruses, protozoa, and bacteria.
How much sleep is enough? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has guidelines defining the amount of sleep needed by children for their optimal health, which can be seen in the table below. Getting the recommended number of hours regularly can help children avoid health risks associated with sleep deprivation. Although this is a general guideline that applies to most children, other people could have different sleep needs. Children need less sleep as they get older, but studies suggest that many are not getting as much as they need.
Newborn to 3 months
16 to 18 hours
4 months to 12 months
12 to 16 hours
1 year to 2 years
11 to 14 hours
3 years to 5 years
10 to 13 hours
6 years to 12 years
9 to 12 hours
13 years to 18 years
8 to 10 hours
Children with good sleep do better in school and have lower rates of mental and physical health problems than those with sleep problems. Therefore, it is important to be a role model as a parent and enforce good sleep habits early in your child’s life.
2. Adapt regular exercise routines
Some of the positive health outcomes of physical activity in children are decreased cardiovascular risk factors, enhanced motor skill development, healthier body composition, improved lung function, and defense against inflammatory diseases. Exercise also increases the number of natural killer cells that play a major role in the host rejection of both tumors and virally-infected cells.
How can parents help? Research shows that individuals learn their habits and attitudes toward physical activity very early in their development by imitating their parents (role modeling) and participating in their routines (encouragement and facilitation to access). To get your children into a lifelong fitness habit, choose a variety of age-appropriate activities, set regular schedules, be active together as a family, and keep it fun so your kids will come back for more.
3. Add more nutrient-dense foods to their diet
Getting the right nutrition early on can positively impact the gut microbiota, thus cultivating the immune system. It leads to immediate benefits in terms of supporting the healthy growth and development of your child, but also by preventing and managing disease in the long run.
What should be on the grocery list? Feed your child fresh, low-calorie, and nutrient-dense foods. Fruits and vegetables, yogurt, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free milk products, seafood, lean meats, eggs, peas, beans, and nuts are high in vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. Keep packaged and processed food to a minimum.
It is also important to monitor your child’s daily water intake. Sugary drinks like fruit juices and cordials may suppress the immune system and cause inflammation and dysbiosis if uncontrolled.
4. Reduce germs with frequent handwashing
One of the most important steps to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others is by keeping our hands clean. By not washing our hands with soap and clean, running water, we can spread many diseases and conditions. Will plain water work? No. Washing hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds can remove bacteria and viruses. Effective hand hygiene can reduce the number of children who get sick with diarrhea by 23 to 40%, reduce diarrheal illness in children with weakened immune systems by 58%, reduce respiratory illnesses like colds in the general population by 16% to 21%, and reduce absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29% to 57%.
5. Recharge the immune system with supplements
Even though most kids receive enough nutrients from a balanced diet, they may still need to supplement with vitamins or minerals. Experts noticed that undernourishment and nutritional deficiencies of zinc, iron, selenium, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E have noticeable influences on immune system responses.
How much do children need? Nutritional requirements are dependent on age, sex, size, growth, and activity level. For individualized advice on the dose and brand of supplement you should be giving your child, please check with your health care professional.