How to Protect Your Child from Catching a Cold

Health Writer

As any parent knows, there is no such thing as “just a cold.” Anytime your child doesn’t feel good, you worry and try your best to take care of them. Colds mean runny noses, sore throats, coughs, sneezing, body aches and maybe a fever. It means your child is likely to be cranky, waking up during the night and missing school. Besides the concern you feel, you are probably tired, irritable and overwhelmed, especially when you have young children and must choose between going to work or finding someone willing to stay with your sick child.

Colds are viruses and are easily passed from one child to the next. While you might not be able to completely prevent your child from ever catching a cold, there are some things you can teach your children to minimize their risk.

Wash hands often. This is the number one preventive measure, because the cold virus is most often spread through touching something with the virus and then touching your face where the virus can get into your nose or eyes. Teach your children to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 30 seconds (any less doesn’t get rid of all the germs), or use a hand sanitizer on a regular basis.

Don’t share utensils, cups or other items. The cold virus can remain on items for several hours, and if your child touches something another child with a cold touched, he is at risk for getting a cold. Talk to your child about the importance of not sharing cups, plates or utensils when at lunch. Make sure your child has the proper school supplies, such as pencils and pens, so they aren’t asking to borrow from another child.

Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. It is much more likely that you will get the cold virus from touching something rather than being near someone who coughs or sneezes; however, it is still practical and polite to cover your mouth. This should be done by holding your arm in front of your face and coughing or sneezing into your elbow (that way they won’t cough or sneeze on their hand and then touch something). You can also teach children to cough or sneeze into a tissue.

Take precautions at home. If someone is sick at home, take some extra steps to make sure to minimize the other family members’ risk. Consider using paper towels and plastic cups in the bathroom for a week. Use a disinfecting spray to wipe down surfaces in the bathroom and the kitchen.

Practice healthy lifestyle habits. While it isn’t understood whether healthy lifestyle habits help prevent colds, some experts believe that by doing so, you strengthen the immune system and can better fight off the cold virus. Healthy lifestyle habits include getting enough sleep, eating right, reducing stress and engaging in regular exercise.

If your child does have a cold, follow the old-fashioned remedy of plenty of rest and plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter cold and cough medications aren’t normally recommended for young children; however, acetaminophen for fever or aches is fine as long as you follow the package dosing. If your child has a fever for more than two or three days, contact your doctor.

For more information:

The Facts on Treating the Common Cold

The Common Cold: "Why Is My Child Always Sick?"

Nag-Free Ways to Get Kids into the Hand-Washing Habit

Natural, Doctor-Approved Ways to Treat Kids' Colds Without OTC Meds