With all the media coverage exploding over the flu epidemic that’s sweeping the nation, it got me asking “What can we do to “flu proof” our kids?”

It’s impossible to keep our kids away from germs.

Look away for two seconds and they’re putting their fingers in their mouth, sucking the handle of the shopping cart, wiping their noses on the back of their hand, picking up dirty bird feathers or putting someone else’s gum in their mouth (ewwww!).

It’s enough to make us want to keep our kids in a bubble until spring time!  Protecting our kids is a deep-rooted instinct. Nothing pulls our heartstrings more than seeing our child sick, feverish and aching from the flu.

So… what can we do to prevent the flu?

We all know the basics: proper hygiene, hydration, good nutrition, adequate sleep and avoid stress (blah, blah, blah).  Sometimes putting that into action is not as easy as it sounds.

Young kids need help with hygiene, picky kids aren’t going to eat all their veggies, some kids have a hard time getting enough sleep, while busy schedules and homework can keep kids stressed out.

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) germ theory; germs don’t make you sick.  Rather, your body’s inability to fend off germs and foreign invaders is what results in your child succumbing to illness. 

Think about it… How is it possible that a family of 5 people living under the same roof can have completely different reactions during flu season?

Assuming that everyone is exposed to the same germs and viruses, if the sickness were attributed completely to the virus, everyone would get sick and exhibit the same reaction and symptoms.  What happens in reality is that one or two family members get ill while the others don’t.  Clearly the issue is not the germs, but the body’s response to them.

1. A Healthy Immune System Starts in the Gut

What your kids eat will be the foundation on which their immune system is built.  In TCM, a healthy diet rich in vegetables, bone broth, whole grains, fermented foods, essential fatty acids (like fish oil & coconut oil) are the way to go. 

Daily probiotics from fermented foods, yogurts, or supplements help keep your child’s gut balanced by providing good bacteria like acidophilus and bifidus which support healthy immune function.

Avoiding sugary foods and white flour foods is really important since it affects how well the immune system functions.   I have observed that right after Halloween there is always a significant rise in the number of kids I treat with upper respiratory illnesses.

While it may not be the cause, I believe an increase in sugar intake weakens the body’s resistance to germs and contributes to the onset of illness. Sugar can be hard to avoid during the holidays, but in my experience limiting it is essential.  Make sure your kids eat something healthy before having sugar in addition to setting clear limits.

If you’re beginning to switch your kid’s diet over to a less processed diet, I recommend checking out the posts below for tips on getting started.  With small but consistent changes over time you can overhaul your kid’s diet.  It’s totally doable no matter where you’re starting.

6 Natural Ways to Knock Out Germs

2. Pediatric Tuina Massage for Wellness

Another way we can strengthen our kids’ bodies to resist the flu is a nightly pediatric tuina massage.  This massage is like a secret weapon. Doing it every night supports the immune system and stimulates the body to heal itself.

The massage harmonizes and strengthens all the organ systems in TCM.  Doing this addresses any minor issues and balances them before they become major issues.  For instance, my oldest son has been having some issues with nightmares and night terrors which are affecting the quality of his sleep (and mine and my husband’s too).  So, in addition to working on his immune system, it will work on restoring normal sleep

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3. Kitchen Remedies

I am on a campaign to revive traditional kitchen remedies. Just last week I read this fascinating post at HealthNutNation.com about a traditional remedy for preventing the flu.  It’s really simple, too. Just keep a cut up onion next to your kid’s bed at night. You’ve got to read the whole post, it’s quite fascinating, Prevent Norovirus: Keep an Onion on Your Nightstand. 

4. Herbal Remedies to Boost Immune Function

As an herbalist I have found that there are so many ways that work to boost immune function that it’s a matter of finding the right one for your kids that works and they’ll take on a regular basis.

I like the time-tested Chinese herbal remedy, called Yu Ping Feng Wan, or Jade Screen, which contains a few herbs, including astragalus to help boost immune function.  This one is safe for kids and can be taken on a daily basis throughout the cold and flu season.

Mushrooms like Reishi are also great for boosting immune function and supporting the lungs.  Other herbs like elderberry, echinacea, mint, golden seal, and honeysuckle can be beneficial as well.  Be consistent in your use if you want it to be effective.

5. Slow Down in the Winter

All year round our kids are expected to keep the same routine, work hard at school, do mountains of homework and participate in after school activities. Shorter days during winter mean we should all be resting more and doing less to stay in rhythm with the season.

If you see your kids are extra tired, cranky, or stressed it’s time to dial back and clear the schedule.  I’ve always been cautious with my kids when I sense they’re rundown.  I think it’s better to let them sleep in, even it means they’re late for school, than to keep pushing them until they get sick. Taking a day for extra R&R is better than taking a week off because of the flu. It will help your body rejuvenate and can sometimes be the difference getting sick or not.

Develop Healthy Habits & Routines

Even though you shouldn’t obsess about germs it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help our kids develop healthy hygiene habits.  Pay special attention to how well your kids are washing their hands.

My kids still try to get away with a quick splash of water in lieu of soaping up.  Make sure they have a routine on how to wash up and when. It should be mandatory to wash up after a trip to the store, going to the bathroom, before meals and after blowing their nose (they will try to trick you from time to time).

Don’t get crazy about killing germs.

Wiping down every surface of your house with toxic cleaning products isn’t healthy or safe. Nor is washing your hands 30 times a day because it can strip your kid’s skin of its natural antibacterial properties.  Plus, this sends the message that your kid’s should be afraid of germs and their body isn’t strong enough to resist them.  Also, anti-bacterial soaps don’t work any better than plain old soap so I wouldn’t bother.  Read more About Antibacterial Soaps

Get Sick to Stay Well

Don’t panic if your child begins to exhibit flu-like symptoms.  There is no need to be afraid.  As your child grows and develops they need to get sick and then get better to build a healthy immune system.

A safe and timely resolution of illness means our kid’s bodies are building up a storehouse of anti-bodies.  These antibodies will prevent illness when we’re exposed to the same virus in the future.  As much as we want to prevent them from getting the flu, there is some benefit to getting it. Now, I’m not saying go have a flu party to expose your kids and build healthy immune systems. Just keep in mind that even though it is terrible to have your kid go through an illness there is an upside.

Infants, children ages 5 and under, asthmatic and immune-compromised kids are most at risk of developing serious and life threatening complications from getting flu. From a public health perspective I understand why the flu shot is recommended for  children in this demographic.

However, there are some very serious questions that need to be answered about the safety and efficacy of the flu shot.  You can read more about the issues surrounding the flu shot in my post To Flu Shot or Not: That is the Question.

Regardless of where you stand on the flu shot, the flu shot cannot “flu proof” your kids either.  It is even more important to ensure these babies and kids are eating a clean, healthy diet to help strengthen their bodies and their resistance to germs.

There is no way to completely “flu proof” your kids, but following a few basic principles for healthy living, doing a nightly massage and putting onions by the bed (why not, right?) are a good start.

If you child gets sick frequently or has lingering symptoms after getting the flu, I would highly recommend taking them to a pediatric acupuncturist who can help your child’s body heal itself and recommend a personalized herbal program, too.

What Do You Do to Prevent the Flu? Share Your Comments…

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