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As parents, we work so hard to keep our kids healthy. But the inconvenient truth is that germs are everywhere, and children are really good at spreading them. That’s especially true when they’re in school and other close quarters: Noses that run like faucets, uncovered sneezes that spray the entire class, and all that sharing of toys, books, and we’re afraid to think of what else…it’s enough to make a mom throw her arms up and surrender. But what if instead of resigning yourself to using the remainder of your vacation days to care for sick kids, you enlisted in a trusty sidekick–a miniature Robin to your Batman–who would join you in the fight against colds and flu? What if you armed your child with tricks to avoid germs and taught her that keeping her body strong will help her fight off that nasty nemesis? With any luck the result will be fewer stuffy noses, junky coughs, and glassy eyes. Here’s how to team up and show those germs who’s boss.

Cover That Sneeze!

Teach you child  some new catchphrases: “If you feel an a-choo, use a tiss-ue.” If your nose is gonna go, use your elbow.” “Children touch everything with their hands,” says Gabrielle Traub, a homeopathic practitioner and faculty member at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. “That’s why sneezing in your elbow actually prevents the spread of germs–you’re not touching everything with your elbow.”

Give a Massage

The spine is chock-full of the nerves in need of relief. Massage counters the negative effect stress has on the body’s cells, says David Allen, a pediatric acupuncturist with AcuSport Health Center in San Diego. Several times a week, have your child lie on her stomach for a back massage. Starting at the lower back, gently pinch the skin on either side of the spine, working your way up to the neck. Go up three times and down once.

Wash Those Hands.

Keeping hands clean is one the best ways to stop the spread of illness. Remind your child to wash her hands often, especially before eating and after using the bathroom. Also avoid antibacterial soaps, says Traub, as they can lead to antibiotic resistance from the very germs you’re trying to keep at bay.

Try Acupuncture.

The Chinese practice of inserting tiny needles into the skin to relieve pain and treat diseases can help restore the body’s healthy flow of energy. To boost immunity, focus on the upper back to stimulate lung function, says Allen. “Good lung function brings lots of oxygen into the body, which helps reduce airway inflammation. That way, if a virus enters through the respiratory tract, the immune system can take care of it faster,” says Allen. For kids who fear needles, acupressure massage can help. Seeing an acupuncturist four times a year, especially before the seasons change, can maintain good health, Allen says. Find a certified one near you at nccaom.org.

Easy On The Sweets.

Cooler temps plus holiday treats can be a recipe for trouble. Cold weather and heated indoor air lead to drier mucus membranes (in the nose and mouth especially) that are more susceptible to infection. Add in too much sugar–which makes cells less effective–and you’ve got immune cells that can’t send or receive signals as well, making them less able to fight viruses, says Weston Saunders, M.D., an integrative physician in Greensboro, North Carolina. Limit sweets to an occasional treat.

Milk The Toes.

Reflexology is based on the idea that pressure points on the feet and hands correspond to all areas of the body. Because the reflexology point for the sinuses is on the toes, massaging them releases the body’s healing energy to the sinuses, says Jordan Mathews, a reflexologist with Belle Sentier Holistic Therapies in Houston. Using a gentle rubbing motion, start at the base of the toe and move upward, lightly pulling on them, as if they were udders you were milking, says Mathews. Clear out the lungs by using a gentle rocking motion on the front of the foot, right below the toes. Reflexology is gentle enough to use daily for 10 to 20 minutes.

Visit Your Chiropractor.

A well-aligned spine helps the nervous system operate at full capacity, says Jeanne Ohm, a doctor of chiropractic and executive director of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association. “The nervous, immune, and mental systems are all connected,” says Ohm, so misalignment at the top of the neck affects respiration, which in turn affects immune function. A chiropractor will examine the alignment of your child’s spine, and then exert gentle pressure to ease vertebrae–which get out of whack from everyday physical stressors like heavy backpacks and prolonged sitting–back into place. Find a pediatric chiropractor near you at icpa4kids.org.

Keep Legs Moving.

Exercise improves circulation, which increases the blood’s oxygen levels and helps our white blood cells fight more effectively, says Traub. More importantly, physical activity reduces stress–something that weakens the immune system. Just be sure to bundle your child up before she goes out to play in order to keep her core body temperature to a relatively normal level, says Saunders. The immune system works better when the body temperature is elevated, he says.

 

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