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Family physician offers advice to keep kids healthy during school year

Pictured is Dr. Stephanie Whitmer, a board-certified family medicine physician with Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers, and her two young daughters.
Pictured is Dr. Stephanie Whitmer, a board-certified family medicine physician with Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers, and her two young daughters.

Parents know the start of the school year also means the onset of runny noses, coughs and sore throats, often brought on by the spread of germs during the school day.

Those illnesses are then often passed along to family members, and before you know it, the whole household is down.

Dr. Stephanie Whitmer, a board-certified family medicine physician with Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers, offers some preventative steps parents can take to keep their children healthier during the school year. As the mother of two young children, these are strategies Dr. Whitmer follows for her own family.

Wash those hands

Yes, the time-honored advice of lathering up with soap and warm water and washing our hands to the length of singing the Happy Birthday song twice is still a great way to wash those disease-causing germs down the sink.

“Having them sing the Happy Birthday song two times while they’re washing their hands is the easiest way to get a child to understand how long they should wash,” Whitmer said in a news release from Morris Hospital.

“Many times, children just want to get their hands wet, throw some soap on them, then rinse off. They should also learn to use warm water and lather all the way up to their wrists.”

And remind them not to touch their hands to their face. Viruses and bacteria gain access to our bodies through the eyes, nose and mouth.

Vaccinate, including for the flu

Flu season spans nearly the entire school year – from October to May – so it’s best to get a flu shot as early as possible, ideally before the end of October.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older.

“I’m a huge advocate of having kids up-to-date on all of their recommended vaccinations,” Whitmer said in the news release. “This is absolutely the way to eradicate diseases and illnesses, including the flu. It is better to have your flu shot than to not have it and be vulnerable to a dangerous virus.”

Boost their immune systems

Whitmer said it’s also crucial to keep our children’s immune systems in tip-top, germ-fighting mode.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet with fruit, vegetables and protein, plus a good pediatric multi-vitamin, is key. A probiotic can be beneficial, as well, Dr. Whitmer said. Parents can talk with their child’s pediatrician about adding those “good” cultures to the diet.

Getting a good night’s sleep is also important.

“I know that can be hard,” she said in the news release “I talk about that often with my own young patients, their parents and even my own kids. Make sure they have a set bedtime and stick with it. Getting enough rest is very crucial to a healthy immune system.”

Regular physical activity is also important to so many aspects of children’s health, including the immune system. Physical education and recess at school is a great start, Dr. Whitmer said, and letting kids go outside when they come home from school is also a terrific way to get the exercise in.

“Encourage them go outside and run around after school,” she said in the news release. “Give them that break. As little as 30 minutes of exercise a day goes a long way to keeping them healthy.”

Family walks and other activities are other great ways to encourage exercise and to demonstrate by example how to squeeze activity into our schedules.

And chronic stress can take a huge toll on our body’s defense systems.

“Pay attention to your kids and make sure they appear happy,” Whitmer said in the news release. “If they’re showing any signs that they might be stressed out, address it and make sure you stay on top of it.”

Stay at home when sick

Keeping children at home when they are ill not only protects a virus or bacteria from spreading to others, it also may allow them to recuperate quicker.

“I highly recommend keeping children home when they’re sick or feeling unwell,” Whitmer said in the news release.

Whitmer sees patients at the Morris Healthcare Center of Morris Hospital, 1345 Edwards St., Suite 2, and the Mazon Healthcare Center of Morris Hospital, 522 Depot St.

To schedule an appointment or a free meet-and-greet with Whitmer, call 815-942-1421 (Morris) or 815-448-2423 (Mazon).

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