Why do kids get sick at the beginning of school term?

Pre-school kids drawing

It’s the start of the new school term but before you’re even able to get organised, the little ones have come down with a cold or a tummy bug. Why does this happen? One reason may be lowered immunity.

Kids are constantly picking up bugs because they don’t worry about germs like grown-ups, so they tend to touch more surfaces such as the playground, soil or even pets more often than adults. This makes them efficient little germ carriers. Children collect, transfer and carry more germs and bacteria than adults, and at a faster rate.

Their little immune systems aren’t as developed as adults, so when you combine this with playtime it increases their chance of getting sick more often. These factors are hard to change, kids will be kids but there are some things we can influence such as sleep, diet and exercise.

Staying up late is one of the things kids love about being on holidays but be careful that they don't overdo it. Primary school kids and teenagers need between nine to ten hours of quality sleep.1 Missing out on a good night’s sleep can lead to more than simply feeling tired the next day, it may lower their immunity. The body needs adequate "restorative" sleep to maintain good immunity and this is why we’re told to get plenty of bed rest when we do get sick.2

To help your kids get more sleep:

  • Set a specific bedtime each night to help them get use to a routine.
  • Encourage them to avoid stimulating drinks or foods before bedtime, such as soft drink or high sugar drinks.
  • Help them improve their sleep environment by keeping the room dark and quiet.
  • Turn off all computers, TVs and mobile phones.

One particular habit many of us can relate to is spending too much time indoors. Kids love playing computer games but sometimes the time they spend indoors comes at the expense of a healthy level of exercise. A lack of physical fitness is another way that kids’ immunity may become compromised.3

Spending time outdoors in the sun is how we make vitamin D. Our main source of vitamin D is from sensible exposure of the skin to ultraviolet B radiation from sunlight. Vitamin D is important for the proper functioning of our immune system, so encouraging them to play outside is another way we can help keep our kids’ immune system healthy.

Diet:

Here are some tasty foods that can also help to boost kids’ immunity.

  • Citrus fruits such as oranges and mandarins are high in vitamin C, which can help strengthen the immune system and also help improve recovery from bugs. Consider orange slices or mandarins, which are easy for little fingers to peel, in your child’s lunch box.
  • Encourage kids to eat foods high in zinc, like dairy products, eggs and beef. Use leftover beef from a roast dinner on sandwiches. Zinc is important for kids’ immunity because lymphocytes, the white blood cells that help protect us from bugs need zinc for their production.

With a few simple steps you can help support your child's immunity as they go back to school.