Back-to-school season is often full of anticipation and excitement. As your kids head back to the classroom, you might be wondering what you can do to support their health.

Taking a proactive approach can help your kids — and you! — stay healthy as they head back to school.

We’ve got seven expert tips to get you started.

It’s one thing to tell your kids to wash their hands, but it’s another to make sure they’re following the correct steps.

“It is so important to ensure that children learn to properly wash their hands by scrubbing them with soap and water for 20 to 30 seconds,” explains Gina L. Posner, MD, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center.

If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and rub it into your skin for 20 to 30 seconds.

Remind your kids to avoid touching their face and keep their hands away from their eyes, nose, and mouth. Also teach them to properly wear a mask and maintain social distancing in school and among their friends during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s vital to keep your children up to date with their vaccinations, especially their flu, pneumonia, and whooping cough shots, according to Daniel S. Ganjian, MD, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.

Even if you’ve skipped the flu shot in the past, experts stress that this isn’t a good year to opt out, due to COVID-19.

“We want to protect their lungs as much as possible,” says Ganjian.

And the same rules apply to the rest of the family.

“The entire family should be up to date with their vaccines to increase the herd immunity in the household,” explains Ganjian.

Why not make mealtime full of colorful fruits and vegetables?

“Fruit and vegetables contain immune-supporting antioxidants like vitamin C,” says Katie Cavuto, MS, RD.

Kids need about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables each day. Fill their plate and lunchboxes with foods like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, spinach, broccoli, and kale.

It’s easy to get caught up in everything you want to get done in a day, but don’t neglect the importance of sleep.

“Sleep is essential for immune system health and general well-being, and not getting enough can also lead to an increased inability to fight off infections,” says Cavuto.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night for children ages 6 to 12 and 8 to 10 hours each night for teens ages 13 to 18.

A simple starting point is to create and stick with a sleep routine.

“Our bodies like consistency, so aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. And kids and adults alike respond well to a bedtime routine that includes wind-down activities like screen-free time, reading, warm baths or showers, and soothing sounds or a guided meditation,” Cavuto adds.

Daily exercise can help reduce stress and boost your child’s overall health. And the best part? It takes only 60 minutes per day to see and feel the benefits.

Aerobic activities like bike riding, playing soccer, hiking, and swimming all get their heart pumping, while activities like climbing or doing pushups strengthen their muscles. But remember to make it fun.

“Kids need to have more fun in their lives — more than ever before,” says Ganjian.

When you increase their fun, you increase their happiness, which Ganjian says helps boost resilience to diseases.

Your kids should get vitamins and minerals from food, but sometimes it’s a struggle to get all the good stuff in their snacks and meals.

Ask your doctor if adding a supplement to your child’s daily routine might be a good idea.

Especially during cold and flu season, it’s important that we all get enough vitamin C and vitamin D. Both of these powerhouse vitamins play a role in boosting the immune system.

We may think our kids are immune to the effects of stress, but the harsh reality is that they may be more stressed and anxious now than ever before. Whether the stressors are at home, at school, or out in the world, knowing the signs of stress can help you intervene ASAP.

Since many kids struggle with expressing their concerns verbally, parents should look for changes in behavior. These include:

  • problems sleeping
  • headaches
  • stomachaches
  • withdrawing from activities
  • extreme mood swings
  • the development of a nervous habit

If you notice any of these behaviors, talk with your child right away. They may need help from a mental health expert.

While this year’s back-to-school season may look a bit different, it’s still essential to ensure everyone in your household stays healthy.

Practicing proper handwashing, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough exercise are all important ways you can support your kid’s immune system and help protect them from illness.