As your busy toddler explores his world, he’ll come into contact with all kinds of germs and bacteria. The good news: Exposure to these antigens, or foreign substances, plays an important role in bolstering his long-term health, as it helps build his immune defenses. Here’s what else can help build his foundation for good health.
Choose smart foods. A well-balanced diet is itself one of the immune system’s best friends, supporting your toddler’s body. Nutrients such as protein (found in lean meat and fish), vitamin A (in red or orange vegetables and eggs), vitamin C (in citrus and strawberries), vitamin E (in fortified cereals, safflower oil, and peanut butter), and zinc (in lean meat, seafood, whole grains, and beans) are all important to help support the immune system. Other nutrients may also help support immune function, such as folate, iron, selenium, and vitamin B6.
Consider toddler milk drinks. These milk-based drinks are specifically designed with toddlers in mind. Look for a high-quality product that offers good nutrition to help support your child’s immune system.
Say yes to yogurt. The live cultures in yogurt, a food that’s fine for your toddler to be eating now, can help support immunity. Look on the label for the words “live and active cultures,” the seal of the National Yogurt Association, or the names of live cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Bifidobacterium bifidum (or Bifidus).
Pay attention to the pediatrician’s concerns about your child’s weight. Unhealthy weight gain may affect immune function. Changing or avoiding potentially unhealthy habits now, such as drinking too much juice or eating high fat snacks, is beneficial to your toddler’s health.
Keep up with vaccinations. Your doctor will keep track of any shots your child receives at well-child visits and recommend changes to the schedule if necessary.
Consider annual flu shots. At this age, your child can get an annual flu shot, usually given in the fall before the start of flu season.
Watch use of antibiotics to treat a cold. The common cold is caused by a virus, so although antibiotics are commonly prescribed, they aren’t actually helpful. It’s best to reserve their use for when your child really needs them in order to preserve their effectiveness.
Teach basic hand washing. Keep a step stool in front of the sink to make it easier for your child to reach. Show him how to build up a lather and wash thoroughly, including the backs of his hands, his palms, and between his fingers. To make sure he sticks with the task long enough (about 20 seconds), sing through “Happy Birthday” twice together as he washes. Establish a habit of washing hands before meals and snacks, and after outside play.
Fingers out of the nose, please! Toddlers love to pick their noses, suck on their fingers, and explore objects orally. Unfortunately, these are opportune ways to contract and transmit germs. Discourage nose picking and other such habits when you see them, and keep disinfecting wipes handy.
Encourage napping. Making sure your child gets enough sleep is a good way to help keep a healthy immune system. Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep in every 24-hour period.
Make active play a part of every day. Running, jumping, and other active play gets the heart pumping and the blood circulating, and has been shown to support a healthy immune system. Keeping active also helps maintain healthy weight. What’s more, he’ll enjoy it!