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How to Minimize Summer Sickness

By , Hillary Copsey

Few things are worse than a summer cold.

Summer is supposed to be a break from the sniffles and sneezes of cold and flu season, but I've found that when you have small children, there is no break from germs. If anything, summer–the season of pools and splash pads, shared water bottles and summer camps–just gives your children more opportunities to bring home a virus.

My boys are in a daycare that has a weekly water day all summer. The school fills up kiddie pools and sprinklers and lets the kids run around splashing and squirting each other. They have a blast. But by the end of the day, the pool is more snot than it is water. And it never fails--everyone in our house is congested and coughing within a week.

I haven't figured out how to avoid the germs altogether, but I do have a few tips for minimizing the damage.

I'm not going to deny my kids water day or trips to the pool. That would just be cruel. But knowing they're likely to be exposed to who-knows-what, I try to make sure their immune systems are as healthy as can be. They get orange juice every morning, and plenty of fruits and vegetables like spinach and antioxidant-rich berries, and protein such as beans or lean meat. Lots of our dishes have garlic in them for the immune-boosting antioxidants it offers. And thankfully, my boys love broccoli, which is high in vitamin C and several other germ-fighting nutrients.

Next, I try to concentrate on the battles I might be able to win. I can't do much about that snotty pool, but I can try to keep the boys from sharing water bottles or other drinks with friends. I've taught them to wash their hands often and well. (I have them wash their hands with soap and warm water for as long as it takes them to sing the ABCs—my 4-year-old loves it!) We talk about covering our sneezes and coughs and throwing away–and definitely not sharing–tissues.

Finally, when the inevitable happens and the germs arrive at our home, I try to take steps to make the sickness pass as quickly as possible. We redouble our efforts to keep our food healthy and rich in immune-boosting nutrients. Anyone who is sick gets double rations of orange juice and blueberries. I fix simple and comforting broth-based soups to keep up the strength of even the sickest among us. We follow the recommendations of our doctors for treating fever or serious infections, but we also turn to tried-and-true home remedies: honey and lemon for coughs, cold compresses for feverish heads, warm salt water rinses for sore throats and saline drops for crusty noses.

And, of course, plenty of rest is key. If my boys stay home sick, I turn on movies. This keeps them happy and comfortable when they feel cranky and miserable. My kids don't get to watch TV all the time, so there's a novelty factor here, but it also keeps them still and resting so their bodies can fight off the illness.

Thankfully, my children are usually much more resilient than the viruses. By their second dip in the germy community kiddie pool, my kids have built up immunity and are free to splash without worry. We're fine--until the new school year starts, bringing with it new students and a whole new set of germs.

I need to go buy more orange juice.

What steps do you take to minimize summer sickness in your home?

Hillary Copsey is a newspaper features editor in Florida with experience writing about everything from population trends to health-care issues. As the mother of two boys, she also is versed in searching for daycares, cooking healthy dinners on the fly and playing with trucks. She co-writes the blog Not raising brats. She writes about parenting for dailySpark and