6 Tips to Build Your Child’s Immune System

We’re officially back-to-school and prepping for the start of the colder seasons – including the illnesses that come along with them. Researchers in Asia reported almost seven times more outbreaks of respiratory infections in reopened schools, childcare centers, and nursery schools after the initial COVID-19 school closures. [1] That is why it is imperative to take steps now to prepare your child’s immune system for every new change that comes their way.

As parents, we can quickly become overwhelmed with stress at the thought of our kids heading back into the classroom. Anxiety about how our children will adjust physically and emotionally to the challenges of a new school year can also take over. But as we help our kids transition away from summer break and focus on their schoolwork, we often forget to prepare their immune systems. We all know how good they are about bringing germs back home with them at the end of the day.

But don’t worry! I have created a list of immune-building tips to help keep your kids healthy all year long.

1. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep is essential to maintaining health and an active immune system that can respond to increased exposure to virus and bacteria as children and young adults gather to learn and socialize. When our children are run down and tired, they become vulnerable to becoming sick. School-aged children need up to 11 hours of sleep per day. Preschoolers need even more than that, about 13 hours of total sleep. Providing kids the opportunity for a healthy sleep schedule is critical. Try starting bedtime preparation 15 minutes earlier each week until you have reached an appropriate bedtime.

2. Teach Good Hand Washing Skills

Research shows the most effective way to prevent the spread of illness/germs is to wash your hands regularly, and the best hand washing habits start at home. Using soap, make sure that your children wash their hands often and for a total of 20 seconds at a time – or about how long it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Make sure that you help them understand the importance of clean hands before eating, after using the bathroom, and arriving home from school. Make it a fun and entertaining activity and it will help provide them with a chance to take an active role in their own self-care.

3. Cough into Their Elbows

A sneeze can travel as fast as 50 miles per hour and contain 100,000 germ particles, which is why it is important to teach your child to cover their mouth before sneezing or coughing. When you sneeze, cough, or even wipe your nose with your hand, the droplets will remain and are transmitted to things like doorknobs, TV remotes, kitchen counters, and other surfaces that people around you will more than likely touch.

One tip, that can be coupled with regular hand washing, is to teach your kids how to cough into their elbow and tell them how it can help keep germs from spreading to others, especially in the classroom.

4. Vitamin Supplementation

Let’s be honest, children tend to be picky eaters and don’t always get the vitamins and minerals their bodies need from their daily diet. In fact, a 2022 survey demonstrated that nearly half of parents report a problem with their child’s diet and are concerned with not getting enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber[2]. Getting enough nutrient intake is needed to support children’s physical and mental development but is also a key determinant of immune responses. For example, insufficient intake of zinc, vitamin c, vitamin A, can impair the immune system’s ability to fight infection. To help support the developing immune system, you can use dietary supplements to fill nutrient gaps. Dietary supplements can be part of a healthy immune support program while schedules are changing and kids are at school, in groups, and inevitably fighting off more viral and bacterial invaders.

  1. Zinc is what the immune system uses to defend itself from invading bacteria and viruses. Children’s multivitamins provide supplemental zinc to fill dietary gaps, but research also suggest that supplemental zinc lozenges and syrups may provide added support during immune challenges, such as a colds and other respiratory infections.[3]
  2. Vitamin D has received significant scientific attention for its role in fighting infection and building immunity. Multiple studies have found an association between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk of infections, such as respiratory infections, which are a leading cause of back-to -school illness and missed school days.
  3. Elderberries are a dark purple berry from a black elder tree. The dark purple comes from anthocyanins, which are pigments that play a role in the production of immune cytokines when consumed. Elderberry has been used traditionally for upper respiratory tract infections and there is emerging modern scientific evidence to support the use of elderberry dietary supplements.

Remember that dietary supplements are for supporting health and filling nutrient gaps. So, if you are thinking about using a dietary supplement when you child is sick, it’s important to talk with your pediatrician about supplementation, especially when it comes to age limits and serving size.

5. Bring Your Own Bottle

Water bottle, that is. Children usually come inside from off the playground or P.E. asking for water. However, while they all take turns quenching their thirst at the nearby water fountain, they are also sharing germs with each other. Packing your child their own water bottle not only helps to ensure they are hydrated, but it also decreases the chances of them picking up any germs floating around their school.

6. Sanitize and Disinfect EVERYTHING

Yes, clean everything. And clean everything again! It might sound like an obvious answer for keeping the germs at bay, but here are 3 must-know tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of your cleaning frenzy.

  • Cleaning Tip #1: Have a Bathroom Plan of Attack

Did you know that your toothbrush holder is the 3rd germiest spot in the house? Many of us have a bathroom hub – a spot where everyone’s toiletries live. Maybe it’s a cup or a drawer, but it’s where everything lives, including germs. Take a moment to rethink how this spot functions and find alternative locations for each item. It is not only the toothbrush holders, however but doorknobs, faucets, and the toilet handle. And if your children are like mine, they also share (and fight over) the stool.

  • Cleaning Tip #2: Don’t Forget the Kitchen Sink

What about the 2nd germiest place in the house? The kitchen sink. Mealtimes are prime times for sharing germs. As we serve and prepare food, we also spread germs – especially siblings, who just love eating off each other’s plates. It’s a good idea to feed your children at different times if one of them is sick to help prevent the spread of those germs. Just make sure to wash hands in between each meal.

  • Cleaning Tip #3: Leave the Germs at the Door

It is not called the mud room for nothing. Have you ever stopped to think about where your child’s backpack or shoes have been throughout the day: the floor of the school bus, classroom hooks (next to all the other germ-infested backpacks), the bathroom floor (yikes!). And where do they end up when they come home? If your family is anything like mine, all the bags are piled on top of each other in the hallway or on the floor. You can almost guarantee that germs are lingering on each of their backpacks and shoes. As a result, make sure your children separate their backpacks and leave shoes in a central location. In addition, disinfect (and even try washing) these items often during the fall and winter season. It will help keep germs from literally walking all over your house.

Final Thoughts on Immune Building for Kids

Implementing a few simple rules and cleaning tips can go a long way in helping to build your child’s immune system – and keep them healthy all year long.

~Dr. Katie


[1] Fong M, Leung N, Cowling BJ, et al. Upper Respiratory Infections in Schools and Childcare Centers Reopening after COVID-19 Dismissals, Hong Kong. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2021;27(5):1525-1527.
[2] C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health 2022.
[3] National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Health Professional Fact Sheet. Zinc. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/ . accessed 09.13. 2022

Meet Our Experts

Dr. Katie Friedman

Dr. Katie Friedman is a board certified pediatrician and specialist in pediatric emergency medicine. She is also a wife, and mother of two. Along with her sisters (Alison, a veterinarian and Carrie, a fashion stylist), she is a co-founder of Forever Freckled, a website dedicated to helping people with pets, children, and everyday lifestyle.