Parents take heart. Contrary to popular belief, there is plenty you can do when your child gets a cold or the flu. Treatment for both illnesses typically consists of drugs to decrease symptoms, bed rest, antibiotics and patience. Natural medicine, on the other hand, is brimming with remedies to treat your sick youngster and suggestions on prevention.
Most of you are too familiar with the symptoms of the common cold: runny nose, sneezing, scratchy throat, headache, fever and a rundown feeling. Slightly less common, but still a winter regular is influenza. The flu differs from a cold by its abrupt onset, shorter duration, and more pronounced fever, chills, muscle aches and fatigue. When you take the right steps, you can prevent or at the very least lessen the misery you and your child go through during the flu and cold season.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
The great thing about kids is their resilient immune systems. Children can withstand a lot more dents in their lifestyle armor than adults before they get sick. This doesn’t mean you should condone unhealthful habits for your children. The younger a child learns sound eating practices, and the importance of exercise, sleep and care for his body, the better. Also, promoting a healthy lifestyle for a child places him on solid ground for the future.
Many of the health principles that apply to grownups are also fitting for young ones. A wholesome diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, with enough protein foods like dried beans, legumes, lean meats, fish and fowl, and low in sugar, salt and fat is best. Eating a lot of sugar and fat depresses your child’s immunity and opens him up to more illness.
Most parents complain that their children won’t eat these foods, and aren’t sure how to introduce a nutritional plan. The secret lies in starting your child out on these foods early so they’re a normal part of his meals. If you’re trying to change the eating habits of an older child, it’s more difficult but can be done. Making gradual changes in his diet, for example switching from regular jam to a sugarless fruit spread might work. Try disguising healthy foods by including them in your child’s favorite dishes. Vegetables on pizza, chicken fajitas on whole wheat tortillas or cookies made with barley flour are all ways to push your child’s diet to the healthy side.
As with adults, staying well means regular exercise. Fortunately for kids, physical activity is not usually a problem. If your child likes to play outside, ride her bike or play sports you’re set. However, during the last couple of decades children have become more sedentary. Television, and more recently, video games are in large part responsible. Besides being sit-still activities, TV in particular promotes junk-food-snacking. Both are also indoor pastimes depriving your child of fresh air and vitamin D rich sunshine.
Your health habits also affect your child. Besides being a role model in the eating and exercise department, your cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking harms your youngster. Irrefutable evidence points to the ill provoking effects of second-hand smoke. Children of smokers are prone to more respiratory infections, ear infections, colds and sickness in general.
Finally, exposure to germs is a factor in illness especially if you’re rundown. Children in daycare or attending school full-time tend to come down with colds and flu more often than kids at home. For many families, putting their children in a child-care center is unavoidable. School, unless you elect to teach your children at home (and many people do), is normal. The best defense against sickness in these circumstances is building your child’s resistance.
Aside from the above suggestions, consider giving your child a vitamin and mineral supplement during the cold season or when there’s an unusual outbreak of sickness in your school or daycare. The weather, indoor living and fighting off extra bugs can tax your child’s nutrient supply. Although I don’t recommend this on a regular basis, you can also give your child prophylactic doses of echinacea when the flu and cold time is in full swing. Make sure to follow dosage guidelines for children, and give this herb in a 10 days on, five days off rotation. These precautions should also be taken when other members of your immediate family are sick and contagious. If your family is starting to come down with the sniffles, take a close look at the home environment. Determine if your diet, activity and stress are at healthful levels.
When the Sniffles Start
Even when you do everything right, your children can still get sick. When this happens, the most important treatment is plenty of comfortable sleep and rest. While some daycare facilities will accept sick children or you can take your little one to a special facility for sick children, I personally think a sick child needs his parent’s loving care during this time. How your child feels greatly impacts her recovery. Snuggled down in her own bed or the living room couch, and cuddling while reading with Mom or Dad are wonderful ways to get better.
Being at home with your child also allows you to monitor how she eats and drinks while sick. Help your child avoid sugar (it diminishes your child’s defenses) and have her drink plenty of fluids, preferably water and vegetable broth. If your child will only drink fruit juice, dilute it half and half with water. The natural sugars in fruit juice can reduce your child’s immunity.
Medicines for Children
Most of the natural remedies adults use during a cold can be given to a child as well. The most important difference is the dosage. As a general rule, children up to school age should receive 1/4 of the adult dose. Kids from 6 to 12 years old can be given 1/2 of what grownups take. Adolescents up to 17 should receive 3/4 of an adult dosage. These guidelines can be used for herbs, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Parents should avoid giving children under 2 any remedies without the supervision of their doctor or natural health practitioner. If you’re still nursing, take the remedy yourself and your baby will benefit from these medicines in your milk. If you’re unsure whether an herb or other remedy is safe while nursing, ask your doctor. Some nutrients, like vitamin B6, dry up mother’s milk.
Homeopathic remedies are ideal for very young children because the tablets or liquid is sweet, easy for kids to take. I’ve also noticed that children respond very dramatically to the correct remedy. Unlike adults, children are less likely to question a homeopathic remedy’s effectiveness. They just take what Mom or Dad give them.
There are many different homeopathic remedies you can use depending on your child’s particular set of symptoms. Allium cepa, or onion, is a classic cold remedy and very easy to remember. Just think of the red teary-eyed, runny nose symptoms caused by cutting up an onion. Typically this discharge is burning and irritates the upper lip. Thirst, dry cough and no or little fever is common. The child will feel worse indoors, in a warm room and during evening hours. I have used Aconite for my son’s croupy cough with great success. He woke up suddenly around 2am, scared and crying out. I gave him a dose of Aconite. By morning his cough was gone.
Herbs also work well for sick children. Echinacea and goldenseal are good antimicrobial, immune stimulating botanicals to use, and a regular dose of vitamin C throughout day also helps. Stay away from alcohol-based tinctures with children, or other medicines containing alcohol such as over-the-counter cough syrup.
If your child is old enough and able to swallow capsules, you’re home free. Most herbs are available in pill form. However, if you need to administer the herbs or vitamin C in powder or liquid form, your child may balk at the taste. If you can’t find a children’s version of the supplement you need, mask its flavor by mixing it up in your child’s food or in a glass of fruit juice. Try disguising the herb or vitamin with unsweetened jam or glycerine.
Don’t worry if your child refuses the medicine you offer him (my son often did). There are other ways to combat a cold or flu. Eucalyptus oil either in a vaporizer or hot bath helps open the lung passages and ease breathing. A hot bath will also help your child sleep. A sore throat may disappear by gargling with a solution of warm water, salt and zinc, as either a crushed up tablet or powder from a capsule. If your child is able, be persistent with the zinc gargling treatment, having your child do it as often as possible. The zinc helps kill viruses residing in the throat.
Steamy drinks served in a special mug while nestled under the covers is a favorite memory of mine when sick as a child. Hot water spiked with honey and lemon is an old fashioned, yet effective cough suppressing beverage. You can serve medicinal herbs in the form of a tea, steeping a tablespoon of the dried plant in a cup of hot water for five to 10 minutes. Sweeten with honey if needed. Chamomile as a tea or homeopathic remedy is soothing and restful for a cranky child.
Sleep, your loving hand and help from Mother Nature’s medicine chest will all speed your child along the road to recovery. Better yet, teach your children healthy habits to prevent them from getting sick. This winter, make the common cold and flu a rarity in your home.
When illness is lurking around the corner, here are a few situations to be aware of and prepare for.
School and Daycare. Being around so many other children increases your child’s chances of infection. Decrease contagion by boosting your child’s health with good food, exercise and lots of sleep.
Holidays. Christmas, Halloween and Thanksgiving are fun, but stressful too — good stress, we call it. Monitor your child during these times. It’s easy for children to overdo it and stay up late not to mention indulging in all the sweet goodies there are to eat.
Stuck Indoors. Depending on where you live, winter time often means staying inside more. Try to keep your child physically active with indoor games, swimming at the local recreation center and participating in winter sports. Weather permitting, encourage your child to go outside for at least 15 minutes per day.
Family Members Sick. Like school and daycare, sick family members can increase your child’s chances of catching something. Unlike schoolmates, family members are more intimate sharing dishes, towels and are physically closer. Keep yourself well so your child stays well too.
Recovering Child. If your child has just recuperated from a cold, flu or other illness, maintain your vigil. Keep an eye on his diet and activities for at least two weeks after the cold or flu has abated. Keep giving him vitamin C and even a low, maintenance dose of herbs for a week or two. If this doesn’t prevent your child from running through a string of sicknesses, see your doctor.