9 ways to build healthy immune systems in children

At a time when handwashing and sheltering in place has become the norm, parents wonder how to best protect their children from illness and disease. On one of end of the spectrum, parents will keep their kids away from others as much as possible, in order to keep them from getting sick. Others take a more laissez-faire approach, assuming their kids will adapt and thrive regardless of habits or hygiene. In general, a balanced and informed approach is best. Here are our top tips for keeping your kids healthy and building their immune system.

Eat Omega-3 fatty acids - Omega-3 fatty acids are an important element to a healthy diet. Omega-3s can fight inflammation, reduce the risk of heart disease, and may even boost children’s reading skills. Omega-3s can be found in some fish including salmon, nuts, and seeds like flaxseed and chia seed.

Eat Vitamin C - Vitamin C is a household name but its benefits may be overlooked. Vitamin C is like a superhero fighting off sicknesses like the cold and flu. It may also reduce the risk of cancer, stroke and improve eye health. Vitamin C supplements are found over-the-counter as well as in vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach and more. It’s also in fruits such as oranges, strawberries, and papayas.

Be well rested - Sleep is a critical part of a healthy immune system. If the body doesn’t have time to refresh and rejuvenate, the immune system will break down no matter what you put into your body. Make sure you and your children are getting enough sleep including proper nap times according to their age.

Breastfeed - While circumstances vary for new mothers and infant children, studies have shown consistently that breast fed children have stronger immune systems over their lifetime. Thankfully, with advancements in breast pumps and flexible work environments, there are greater opportunities to incorporate breast feeding into your infant’s early diet.

Wash your hands - Washing your hands is one of the greatest preventative measures against illness. It’s nearly unavoidable for kids to put things in their mouths, so kids will be exposed to germs in good and harmful ways. But by ensuring kids’ hands are washed regularly — especially before eating and after using the toilet — you can hit “restart” on the germ intake, lowering the likelihood of spreading colds and flu, for example.

'Look at Me' (Hand Hygiene) from Providence Health & Services, Alaska:

Exercise - It is important to exercise regularly, building a routine into your schedule in a way that makes exercise a habit instead of an occasional endeavor. Energy, low blood pressure and proper circulation are all positive side effects of exercise and are important ingredients to strong immune systems. These factors help bodies fight off illnesses. Parents should ensure that children have ample opportunity and encouragement to build in physical activity to their daily routine. Check out these 25 ways to get your kid moving for 25 minutes.

Vaccinate - Ensuring your children receive the appropriate vaccinations at the recommended schedule of the CDC, will not only protect them against disease, but will also help protect the vulnerable in the community who are not able to receive vaccinations, such as the elderly and infants. They are many unsubstantiated rumors and fears related to vaccinations, but parents should be confident in the benefits that help their children live healthy and happy lives.

Consider probiotics - There is increasing interest around the consumption of probiotics. Probiotics are touted to improve gut health and lower risk of infection. Probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt. While more research is needed to confirm all benefits, probiotics are a positive ingredient to a holistic effort to improve immune health.

Remember the grown-ups - Keeping older household members healthy is another preventative measure for keeping children healthy. Children’s health is largely impacted by the health of other household members. Parents getting sick at work or older siblings getting sick at school can cause younger members of the family to get sick as well, even if they are largely sheltered from wider populations. 

With proper awareness and precautions, parents can create environments that enable children to thrive.

Looking for a pediatrician? Find one near you in our online directory, or visit:

WA: Pacific Medical Centers – PediatricsProvidence PediatricsProvidence Pediatric Associates – Spokane, Northpointe

OR: Providence Children’s Health

MT: Grant Creek Family Medicine

CA: Providence PediatricsSt. Joseph Health Pediatrics, Northern CaliforniaSt. Joseph & St. Jude Heritage Medical Group

AK: Children’s Hospital at Providence

Subscribe to To Your Health for more of our best articles on pediatrics and more.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Children's Health Team is focused on providing insights and clinically-backed advice to help parents take care of their children. From tips on raising respectful boys and girls to immunizations for babies to planning for the teen years, our clinical experts offer an informed perspective to help you and your kids live healthy lives.

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