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Winter Safety Tips
Stay-well tips for weathering the cold and flu season
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What's the single best way to prevent illness? Hand washing! Sounds simple, but try getting kids to do it. This fun get-clean gear just might help:
1. The Microbe Liquid Soap Dispenser, in the shape of the common cold virus, can serve as a mini-science lesson when you hit the sink. ($10; thinkgeek.com) A plush toy germ is available, too. ($9; thinkgeek.com)
2. Pressing this SquidSoap pump marks a circle on the palm that takes 15 to 20 seconds to wash off—the time docs recommend for a good scrub. ($4; Bed Bath & Beyond stores)
3. Keep the little ones safe with The Germinator from BabyGanics, a sanitizer that doesn't contain any alcohol or fragrances. ($7; babyganics.com)
4. SoapTime's elephant, ABC, and earth-themed soap dispensers display a fun sound and light show that lasts 20 seconds. ($17 for all three; mysoaptime.com)
Protect your family by getting everyone over 6 months old the seasonal flu vaccine, recommends Jon Abramson, M.D., chair of pediatrics at Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, NC. Talk to your pediatrician or go to familiesfightingflu.org to find a clinic that offers the flu vaccine. These days that may not even mean getting pricked. Here's what form of vaccine your family can have, and when:
Under 6 months: No vaccine yet, but parents should get the flu shot or FluMist nasal vaccine (if they don't have other health issues) to help avoid passing on the virus to their baby.
6 months to 2 years: Flu shot only.
2 years and up: Flu shot or FluMist.
2 years and up (with asthma or immunity issues): Flu shot only.
If you're pregnant: When expectant moms get the flu shot, they decrease the chance their babies will contract the flu in the first 6 months of life (when they're at greatest risk).
OUT: DM Cough Medicine
Parents spend billions on over-the-counter cough remedies, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics never recommends them for kids under age 2, and cautions against their use under age 6. Is it worth it?
Researchers have done a head-to-head comparison of dextromethorphan (the cough suppressant found in “DM” cold medications) with a less expensive natural remedy: honey. The honey outperformed DM in every category, from reducing the number and severity of coughs, to improving sleep—for kids and parents.
The most effective honeys appear to be the darker varieties. The suggested dose for ages 1 to 6 is one-half teaspoon 30 minutes before bed, increasing to one teaspoon for children 6 to 11 years old.
Dark chocolate contains a different ingredient that has tested better than DM for coughs. I use a half ounce of dark chocolate under age 6, and one ounce from 6 to 11. The effect lasts about four hours.
A rainbow diet of vitamin A- and C- packed fruits and veggies, plus proteins, will help your fam's immune systems beat back germs. Some ideas:
Snack on red-pepper slices dipped in hummus, plus vitamin A—fortified milk.
Add cooked carrots or broccoli to meals, plus a side of pumpkin or zucchini bread.
Sip a fruit smoothie: Blend 3/4 cup orange juice and 1/2 cup frozen strawberries.
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc. for Getty Images
Kids can usually play outside when it's 30°F or higher, as long as they're dressed appropriately (meaning, do your best to get them to keep their hats and gloves on). At temps between 15°F and 30°F, exercise caution outdoors, particularly if it's windy.
For dressing babies in cold weather, snowsuits are the best option, says Lindsay Hansen, program manager of recreational safety for Safe Kids Worldwide. But be sure it's not too thick, so your baby can move around easily and not overheat. “Fleece is a great material for baby coats and snowsuits because it's thin but very warm,” notes Hansen.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the rule of thumb for older babies and young children is to dress them in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions. (But keep an eye out for little guys who may be overheating or sweating, especially while riding in a car.)
Whether they're indoors or out, it's always a good idea to dress older children in layers. From chilly bus stops to stuffy classrooms to hot gym classes, most kids could use a series of costume changes throughout the day. Temperature fluctuations alone won't make a child sick, but overheating can lead to dehydration. Then he'll be more vulnerable to catching a bug when the kid at the next desk sneezes all over his notebook. Begin with close-fitting shirts and leggings, then add on loose layers from there. Items that can be easily snapped on or zipped off with confidence will keep your child feeling comfortable—and looking cool!
You don't need to pay big bucks for outerwear made of fancy high-tech fabrics, but “you'll want a coat that's adaptable to the cold weather,” says Hansen. Consider buying a coat system, with a zip-out fleece jacket covered by a waterproof outer shell, and your kids will be ready for any forecast. Dress them in layers with close-fitting shirts at the base and then build up from there.
Flu F.A.C.T.S. iPhone App
What if you could get a heads-up when flu cases spiked in your area? Or identify symptoms on the go? Fortunately, there's an app for that. The Flu F.A.C.T.S. iPhone app (free; itunes.com) shows you where the greatest concentrations of flu viruses are across the country, and allows you to enter your zip code to see how prevalent the outbreak is in your area. If you find that you're smack-dab in the middle of a flu hot zone, avoid indoor playgrounds and ball pits, no matter how desperate you are to get the kids out of the house! If your child's already sick, use the app's symptom checker to find out if it's really the flu you're dealing with. (However, don't try to use the app to diagnose your child entirely on your own; contact your pediatrician, too.)
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Fireside Chat Cozying up by a fireplace is awesome in winter, but take extra precautions when the kids are around.
Keep them at least three feet away from the fireplace, since burning wood can crackle and pop, causing embers to fly out.
Consider using metal fireplace screens or curtains instead of glass doors, which stay hot up to an hour after the fire is out.
Don't place anything your child might be tempted to reach for (stuffed animals or toys) on the mantel.
Place heavy, soot-covered tools out of reach. Otherwise, you're just inviting a sword battle with the fireplace poker.
Red-Hot App Alert Home fires spike in winter months, so consider downloading an app like SCDF Fire Safety (free; itunes.com) and using it to explain and practice fire-safety procedures with your kids: how to avoid fires, come up with an evacuation plan, operate an extinguisher, and more.
Space Case If you're using a space heater anywhere in your home, block access to it from children and pets. Create a kid-free zone of at least three feet around it and any other type of heating equipment or candles.
Despite the drop in temperature, you need to keep up these warm-weather habits.
Sunblock Cover your child's exposed skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Helmets For ice skating or sledding, kids can simply use a bike or ski helmet; downhill skiing and snowboarding require specifically designed helmets.
Water bottle Kids should drink up before, during, and after going out. Serve 12 ounces of water a half hour before, then five ounces (for under 90 pounds) to nine ounces (for over 90 pounds) every half hour.