Last week, schools across Turkey, which had been closed since March when the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, officially opened their doors – albeit with new rules and at much more reduced capacities. Though going back in-person is a move contested by many health officials, both students and teachers have missed the interaction and opportunities offered by face-to-face education.
As part of the new shift system introduced to minimize overcrowding at schools but still preserve a sense of normality, preschoolers and first-grade students have been going to schools twice a week with reduced school hours. The country will move ahead with a planned return for other grades after evaluating the situation with the kids.
Coupled with the economic and organizational uncertainty and the worry of rising cases, parents have been frantically searching for ways to keep their children as healthy as possible in the event that they start socializing again at school. The most widespread mistake parents make that usually does more harm than good is feeding their kids all types of vitamins and supplements in the hope that it will boost their immune systems against colds, the flu and the now-infamous coronavirus.
Child Health and Diseases Specialist Dr. Çiğdem Yavrucu says doing so, and especially not under medical supervision, is dangerous. Using vitamins in healthy individuals, and in particular, children, that do not need supplements can cause vital problems in organ functioning.
“When excess amounts of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, K are taken, they may accumulate in some organs and negatively affect the functioning of those organs. Certain foods known to strengthen the immune system, such as elderberry, beta-glucan, ginger, and turmeric, and especially when consumed in uncontrolled amounts in supplement form, can even over-activate the immune system and lead to serious health problems,” said Yavrucu. She shared eight tips on how to boost children’s immune systems naturally this fall.
Eat your vitamins, naturally
It is essential to have a diet rich in protein, which is the building block for our tissues and body as a whole.
“To ensure your children are getting sufficient protein, try to eat fish at least twice a week, red meat twice or three times a week, and legumes such as beans, chickpeas and lentils two to three times a week. If they are not allergic, have them eat eggs, cheese and butter every morning,” Yavrucu said.
Encouraging them to eat fruits and vegetables that are in season to get vitamins naturally is also crucial. Oranges, tangerines or pomegranates are great sources of vitamin C and great to boost the immune system ahead of a tough winter.
Probiotics can also strengthen the immune system by keeping everything running smoothly, which should be consumed in the form of homemade yogurt, ayran or kefir, she said. Prebiotics such as bananas and asparagus are also good foods to add to children’s diets. Unlike probiotics, which are live bacteria found in fermented foods, prebiotics are types of dietary fiber that feed gut-friendly bacteria, so you will get the most benefit from having them both in your diet.
Nuts should also be a part of a healthy diet. Thanks to the vitamin E, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids they contain, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts can help strengthen the immune system. Yavrucu recommends that children have a handful of nuts, roughly equal to two or three walnuts, five to 10 almonds, around five to eight cashews or pistachios, or eight to 10 hazelnuts every day.
Practice hygiene, wear masks
All germs, including the coronavirus, are easily transmitted as a result of poor hygiene and contact with other people or objects or via oral and nasal secretions. Children are also more likely to catch viruses from the constant touching of their mouths or noses. For this reason, before and after meals, parents should be teaching their kids to wash their hands with plenty of water and soap for at least 15-30 seconds and take a bath or shower every day after going outside, if possible.
Parents should set good examples by wearing a mask in crowded and closed environments and teach their kids to do the same. The only exception is for children under the age of 2, which can be dangerous as it may cause respiratory distress.
Don’t bundle them up
In cold weather, we have a tendency to wear the thickest, fluffiest and warmest clothes we own, but this could constitute problems. Instead of dressing them in a single piece of thick clothing, try to let them to layer one or two thin garments, which will both provide better insulation and adjustment to the temperature of the environment they are in. As for feet, cotton socks should be favored, not synthetic fabrics that cause sweating. Wearing scarves and beanies in the cold is also a good idea.
Have them drink plenty of water
Children often forget to drink water, so make sure you keep track of their intake and make frequent reminders. Drinking enough water helps regulate blood circulation, supports the metabolism and facilitates the elimination of harmful substances and toxins from the body. At the same time, being indoors with central heating decreases the humidity in the room, causing the respiratory tract to become dry and irritated, and hence increases the risk of upper respiratory tract infections. Yavrucu says you can reduce this risk by drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated.
Establish a sleeping schedule
“When children are tired and sleepless, their body resistance decreases, and they get sick very easily. Make sure your children get enough sleep to increase their ability to fight any diseases that might come their way. Make sure they go to bed at the same time every night,” Yavrucu said.
Don’t slack on sports
Being home-schooled may be causing children to become increasingly sedentary, so it is important to get them moving. Exercising and staying active also strengthens the immune system and increases body resistance against diseases. Yavrucu says the best way to get children to move is to choose sports that they will find fun and help them develop. Swimming and gymnastics are great to start early at 4-5 years old, while tennis or football are more appropriate for 7-8 years old and onwards, and water polo or Turkish favorites such as basketball or volleyball after 9-10 years old.
Keep rooms well-ventilated
Not only do closed and poorly ventilated environments mean germs stay trapped there for a long time, but they also constitute a risk for respiratory infections and can make people feel lightheaded or achy if not enough oxygen circulates in the room. Studies with the coronavirus have shown that getting fresh air and using fans decreases the chances of getting infected.
Get them vaccinated
Vaccines provide protective immunity for individuals as well as the general public. From tuberculosis (TB) and the measles, rubella, mumps (MMR) vaccine to chickenpox and more, school-age children in Turkey are required and encouraged to be vaccinated against these preventable diseases. With a tricky winter ahead with the coronavirus pandemic and flu season underway, being vaccinated is even more crucial, experts say.