I’m a full-time working mom whose child attends daycare.
I am also a germaphobe.
I hold these truths to be self-evident. As well as thoroughly incompatible.
When I arrived to pick up my then-four-month-old daughter following her first day at the childcare center she attends, I found her just waking up from a nap in the infant room’s communal playpen. Already distraught from a full eight hours away from her, I saw red. I had clearly stated my desire for Lil’ Bit to sleep only in the crib designated as hers, under the pretense of establishing firm sleep habits that transcended the boundaries of home and school.
It was only partially true.
What I hadn’t admitted at the time was that I didn’t want my child chilling in place where other babies had lain (and drooled and sneezed and spit up) before her.
After a calm discussion with the center’s assistant director addressing my concerns, I went home and unleashed the full weight of my fury onto my unsuspecting husband. She would NOT be returning to that place! I seethed. That cesspool! That hive of scum and villainy!
Now seems like a good time to note that Hubs and I actually adore our daycare center. Over the past two years we’ve watched our daughter flourish under the care and guidance of its loving, attentive staff. And the facility itself strictly adheres to state licensing requirements for health and cleanliness.
Needless to say, Lil’ Bit remained where she was. And I came to the conclusion that if I was to have any hope of surviving daycare – or motherhood, for that matter – with my sanity intact, then I was going to have to find a way to contain my crazy with regard to germs.
And I have. For the most part.
Of course whenever I observe Lil’ Bit sharing a toy with a classmate or running her hand along the safety railing in the stairwell, I still cringe inwardly, seeing only a surface crawling with millions of tiny bacteria. But then I shake it off and remind myself that I cannot keep my child encased in a protective bubble her whole life.
That said, I haven’t completely surrendered the notion of a healthy household during the preschool years, particularly from November through April when flu season is at its peak. In an effort to protect Lil’ Bit’s health and reduce the spread of germs at school (and home), Hubs and I adhere to a few simple practices – all of which are recommended by The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and reinforced by the staff at Lil’ Bit’s childcare center.
So, for fellow moms whose children attend daycare or preschool and who, like me, may also be [recovering] germaphobes, I offer the following tips for surviving flu season, the back-to-school rush, and all the germ-laden months in between:
1. Teach, encourage, and model healthy habits.
Remind your kids to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue away and wash their hands. No tissue available? Teach them to cough or sneeze into their elbow, not their hand. Discourage them from touching their eyes, nose, or mouth, as these actions aid in the spread of germs.
As parents, we serve as our children’s greatest role models. So, help them learn good hygiene by discussing, showing, and practicing it. And don’t be afraid to ask their teachers or childcare providers to do the same.
2. Be vigilant about hand washing.
According to the CDC, clean hands are the first line of defense against the spread of germs and illnesses, from the common cold to more serious infections. It’s important that kids learn from an early age to wash their hands often, and especially in the following situations:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating
- After using the bathroom
- After blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching animals, including family pets
- After coming into contact with sick friends or relatives
- After touching garbage
- After playing outside
If soap and water are not available, encourage kids to clean their hands using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. It’s important to note, however, that hand sanitizers are not effective when hands are visibly dirty.
3. Encourage healthy eating.
“Eat your vegetables!” nags generation after generation of moms to their picky offspring. And for good reason – a healthy diet boosts the immune system and aids in fighting infection.
According to the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), families with children should adhere to certain dietary guidelines to create a balanced diet and maximize health benefits:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
- Regularly serve baked or broiled fish as an entree.
- Eat whole-grain breads, cereals, pastas, and rice products.
- Limit or restrict sugary foods and beverages, such as juice and sodas.
- Use nonfat or low-fat milk and dairy products daily.
- Use vegetable oils high in monounsaturated fat, such as olive and canola, and soft margarine low in saturated and trans fats.
- Be physically active for at least 60 minutes each day.
And finally, parents should also eat healthfully to send the right message about nutrition to their children.
4. Get the flu shot.
Considered by the CDC to be the best form of protection against the flu, the annual flu vaccination is recommended for all children age six months and older. Flu vaccines are often offered in schools, as well as doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, and pharmacies.
5. Be a conscientious parent.
In addition to setting a good example for your kids by modeling healthy habits and routines, please be diligent about keeping them at home when they do get sick. Most childcare centers adhere to strict policies involving no fever and/or vomiting for at least 24 hours before a sick child may return to the facility. Abide by them. Eating a sick day just to stay housebound with an ailing child may not be altogether pleasant, but in a setting where one potent virus can fell an entire classroom, or even student body, it’s the right thing to do.
And one last thing…
Your kids will get sick. It’s as inevitable in a childcare setting as the glitter-infused “artwork” you will invariably display on your refrigerator door.
And it’s OK.
Lil’ Bit had been in daycare for only one month before she started catching every virus that came through the door; as a result, I did not complete a full week of work for six straight weeks. This past winter, we experienced another scourge that included five colds, four stomach bugs, three ear infections, two ER visits due to high fever, and one febrile seizure.
Such onslaughts test my patience and stamina as a parent and challenge my general coping abilities to the core. But I’ve somehow learned to muddle through them without [too much] panic and anxiety.
I don’t have much of a choice, after all.
It’s not like I can keep her encased in a protective bubble her whole life.
What measures do you take to protect your kids’ health?
Disclosure: As a member of Clever Girls Collective, I was selected to participate in the Healthy Routines program sponsored by Kimberly-Clark and Colgate-Palmolive. The content and opinions expressed here are all my own. #healthyhabits #cgc