I really hate the concept of “flu season” — it sets us up to be ready to get sick, right?! But I also have a healthy respect (“healthy” — see what I did there??) for statistics, and it is true that a lot more folks get a lot more colds and flu during the winter months. Here are three tried and true secrets for not getting sick — tips that staved off many bouts of illness in our family over many years. (My kids are now 22 and 26 and continue to use these with great results.)
I have been sharing these tips for not getting sick with friends for years, and finally decided it’s my moral duty to put them out there to the wider world!
Brush & Gulp
Brush your teeth first thing upon arising in the morning, and follow that up with a big glass of (ideally warm, but at least room temperature) water. This tip came courtesy of a preschool teacher, who learned it from a naturopathic doctor. Putting this into practice in my daily life was a challenge, as I didn’t like the toothpaste taste in my mouth before breakfast. But it was well worth retraining myself: I do this all year around and I have been successful in not getting sick (well, just once, a horrid stomach bug) for the 7 or 8 years since learning this!
Bacteria have a field day multiplying in your mouth while you sleep, so brushing evicts most of them before they have the chance to take up permanent residence elsewhere in your body. I’m going to be perfectly honest with you — I’m not 100% (or even 25%) sure how the glass of water relates to the bacteria situation. I can see how rehydrating the body after its nightly fast is a good thing in general, but how it specifically contributes to illness prevention I would only be guessing at, and that wouldn’t be responsible of me, now would it? All I know is, it works!
Hot Foot Bath
Do this when you’re first getting that “Uh-oh, I think I might be coming down with something” feeling, and you want your best shot at not getting sick. Ideally, you can do this at a time when someone else is tending to your child(ren). Bring a 3-quart pot of water to a boil on the stove, cover, and carefully carry it to your bathroom counter. Fill the sink partway with hot water, just enough to barely cover your feet. Clear a place to sit on the counter — I usually put a folded towel down as a cushion — and place your feet into the water. It should be as hot as you can stand.
After a couple minutes, as the water has begun to cool off, take your feet out and carefully pour a little bit of the very hot water from the pot into the sink water to warm it back up. Replace the pot cover and put your feet back into the water. Keep repeating this until all the pot water is gone. The idea is to have about 15 minutes’ worth of a VERY hot bath for your feet. I usually take a magazine or book in there with me.
I recommend not having your phone or other social media portals along for the foot bath. The goal here is to relax and let all cares and thoughts melt away. And I think it brings extra benefit if you take this opportunity to direct some loving thoughts and energy to your feet, those devoted structures that carry you everywhere and make life as you know it possible!
Dry off your feet and put on some warm, cozy socks, ideally natural fiber like wool (cashmere would be yummy!). Make sure you are bundled up warmly enough all over. One of the boons of a hot foot bath is that it warms up your entire body, which is a good thing. It is best to NOT bathe your entire body when you are feeling unwell — especially to not wash your hair — because of the cooling off that automatically happens to the body following that. It can be just the jump-start some germs need to take hold!
Once you’re warmly wrapped up, curl up with a blanket and a not-too-gripping book or magazine, and I dare you to not doze off! And that is part of the point: rest is THE best treatment when you’re “on the verge” of coming down with something.
Which brings me to the big guns:
I have heard sleep called the “royal cradle of growth.” Sleep is nature’s own health-giving treasure, offered to us nightly, and we frequently spurn it in favor of all manner of other trivial pursuits. And we suffer for it. Especially when our immune system is working hard to keep us well during the you-know-what season.
Your child needs anywhere between ten and fourteen hours sleep (including naps) depending on his or her age, and how much his or her body is working at not getting sick. Ensuring that our children get the sleep they need means making a sizable commitment to prioritizing it on a daily basis — to serve dinner early enough to begin the bath-to-bedtime routine** may mean curbing late afternoon errands or activities. Throw the afternoon nap in there beforehand and suddenly you’re reminded of the earliest days of nursing when it seemed the end of one session practically dovetailed into the beginning of the next, with no “me” time to be found!
Protecting the family’s sleep is one of the most simple things you can do to cultivate a happy, healthy home. But clearly, “simple” doesn’t always mean “easy.” It requires foresight, fortitude, and organization. Here are our sleep needs in hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation:
Toddlers 12-14 hours
Preschoolers 11-13 hours
School-age children 10-11 hours
Adolescents 9-10 hours
Adults 7-9 hours
[** I actually like to see children have their bath before dinner. There is etheric energy transfer involved in eating food, and that can be “washed away” during bathing.]
Bonus Tips with Caveats
My daughter and her dad find great relief from using a Neti Pot — the caveat being that I’ve never tried it. (They are “sinus people” and I’m not.) But hey, Dr. Oz is a big Neti pot fan, so there you go!
Lastly, as a mother with growing children I found homeopathic remedies to be a tremendously helpful resource in dealing with family illness and injury of all kinds. There is a learning curve involved in using these subtle substances, not to mention a paradigm shift required in order to have faith in them!
There is also an element of individuality to homeopathy: a remedy that works wonders on one child’s cough might be useless for another. One remedy that I can confidently mention as a universally helpful one at the very beginning of an illness, where there are not yet any clear-cut symptoms — and especially when the person has “glossy eyes” — is Ferrum Phos., ideally in a 5C dosage, 3 pellets every little while.
Less Stress, Less Illness
Perhaps the best tip for not getting sick is to shed whatever stress you can. But parenting is steeped in stress, right? And the more stressed WE are, the more “difficult” our children become, and that’s a big stressor so it becomes a vicious cycle!
The more calm and confident we can be as parents, the more our children “catch our calm” and things feel much better all the way around. And, as one of my favorite parent educator / psychologists, Lawrence Cohen, points out, our kids really need us to loosen up and be more playful and easy-going!
And doesn’t a playful, healthy New Year sound wonderful!?
This article is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. If you are suffering from a disease or ailment, you are advised to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable, licensed health care professional.
I’m the author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, and also the adoption expert on Mothering’s expert panel. I write and speak on prenatal, child and parent development and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. As a gift to Mothering readers I’m offering my “7-Step Guide: Helping Your Child Release Stuck Behaviors” eBooklet.