Is January too late for a flu shot?
Every pediatrician we spoke to strongly recommended yearly flu vaccinations for children 6 months and older. “The influenza virus strains that circulate around the world may change from year to year, and the vaccine is adjusted as necessary,” explains Dr. Megan Iliev of Southdale Pediatrics. And there’s often no need for needles. The nasal spray flu vaccine is painless, and approved for healthy people between ages 2 and 49 years old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even lists it as the preferred vaccine for kids between ages 2 and 8.
If you haven’t been vaccinated yet this season, it’s not too late to reap the benefits. “We recommend getting an influenza vaccine well into the winter season,” says Dr. Gigi Chawla, senior medical director of primary care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. “In years past, influenza has been detected in our community through spring.”
What have you forgotten?
While clothing protects most skin, sun reflecting off the snow can cause any exposed skin to burn. “My rule of thumb is, if someone is out for more than one hour during the winter, they should protect themselves from the sun,” says Dr. J. Erik Johanson of Ridgeview Chanhassen Clinic. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises applying broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
How cold is too cold?
YWCA Minneapolis early childhood education programs head outdoors if the wind chill and temp are 10 degrees or above. Saint Paul Public Schools go indoors if the temp or wind chill falls to zero or below.
Once upon a winter break, moms and dads could hardly wait for school to start again. But when class was back in session, so were the sore throats and the stomachaches—with a vengeance.
Sound familiar? The germy annual cycle is enough to make any family want to hibernate in a bunker filled with hand sanitizer. Until the boredom sets in, that is.
We asked local pediatricians and kids’ health experts to share their smartest tips for keeping kids healthy and active, no matter the weather, the illness, or the latest screen-time craze. Their insights are your family’s prescription for getting more out of winter than coughing into a Kleenex.
Avoid the crud.
No, you’re not imagining things. Kids really do get sick more often during the winter. But the culprit isn’t the cold. It’s the proximity to people. “When children are in close quarters such as school and daycare, it is an ideal setting for the viruses to spread from person to person,” explains Dr. Megan Iliev of Southdale Pediatrics.
Influenza, walking pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the common cold are among the most common viruses local docs see in school-aged kids each winter. Strep throat is one of the most common bacterial infections.
To avoid them all, parents can teach their children basic hand-washing and sneezing techniques. “Sneeze into your elbow or a Kleenex,” Park Nicollet pediatrician and chair of pediatrics Dr. Anne Edwards advises. Parents can also teach kids to not touch their faces—a seemingly subconscious reflex for younger children.
Supplement Vitamin D.
The Twin Cities’ high latitude on the Northern Hemisphere provides us fewer than 10 hours of daylight each day between November 5 and February 5, which means our bodies have limited opportunity to make vitamin D by absorbing the sun’s UVB rays. Because vitamin D is an essential nutrient for regulating the immune system and effectively absorbing calcium to build bone strength, local pediatricians recommend a wintertime vitamin D supplement for kids.
Watch the dosage, though. “Children can actually have bad symptoms from high vitamin intake, including vitamins A, C, or D. It can lead to stomachaches, rashes, or headaches, so it’s a good idea to check with your pediatrician before starting a vitamin for your child,” Edwards says. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 400 to 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily, in addition to the amount kids get from foods.
Make like a snowman and get outside.
Minnesota has the second-longest life expectancy of any U.S. state (bested only by Hawaii). We are a healthy, hearty bunch, and we can use our good health to oust cabin fever. “Make exercise fun and don’t let the weather deter you. It’s easy to use the weather as an excuse to be inactive and stay inside. But don’t—just bundle up!” says Chris Ganzlin, vice president of girls and youth programs at the YWCA of Minneapolis. In addition to maintaining fitness, physical activity is a powerful mood booster that’s even more important during winter’s shorter days.
From ice skating to snowman-making to our robust lineup of local winter festivals, a wide range of alfresco family activities makes it easy to get out and moving. Dr. J. Erik Johanson of Ridgeview Chanhassen Clinic enjoys taking his family to nearby regional parks. “They often have maintained cross-country ski trails and sliding hills. Snowshoeing is another fun activity, and many parks rent equipment.”
The key, of course, is dressing your children (and yourself) for the weather. “Children often have boots that fit poorly due to their foot growth. They often lose mittens or get them wet, or get sweaty under coats from playing hard and then take their protective clothing off,” Chawla says. Have kids try on winter clothing each year to ensure a proper fit, and make sure they keep it on during outdoor activities. If it gets wet, bring them inside to dry off and warm up.
Too cold outside?
Get active indoors.
Just how cold is “too cold,” anyway? Because coldness depends on both temperature and wind chill, there’s no hard and fast rule about staying indoors when the mercury drops below a certain point. But you can take cues from your school and community organizations. Deby Ziesmer, vice president of early childhood education at the YWCA of Minneapolis, says children in YWCA early childhood education programs head outdoors when the wind chill and temperature both hold at 10 degrees Fahrenheit or above. “It may be for just a short amount of time, but it is very important to help children understand that moving their bodies will create the heat to help keep them warm,” Ziesmer says. Saint Paul Public Schools hold recess indoors if the temperature or wind chill falls to zero degrees or below.
Once your crew is inside, find ways to keep moving. “In too many homes, we choose movies and snacks over living room workouts with our families. Living rooms are places where families can truly live together, and that can include burpees, jumping jacks, wall-sit contests, or impromptu dance parties with the kids,” says Jason Burgoon, personal trainer and owner of Bodies by Burgoon in Minneapolis. His advice? “Dig in the basement to find some active, old-school games like Twister, or make board games interesting by adding your own rules, like every time you roll a four, you have to do 10 push-ups! When you add fun twists to routine activities, you are also creating valuable memories.”
Kids are keenly observant, and they’re professionals when it comes to mimicking the actions of adults in their lives. “If parents have sedentary habits, then children will develop them. If parents are active, then the children are more likely to be active, too,” Burgoon says. The same goes for parents’ attitudes toward our northerly climate. “We have to role model. If we are all down about the weather, the reality is that our kids are going to take that on as well,” Edwards explains.
Need more motivation to brave the snow? “Think back about a memory that you had with your parents,” advises Nicole Hessels, general manager of the YWCA of Minneapolis, Uptown. “It most often does not include a gift they gave you, but a time that you shared together, like building a snowman or going ice skating. It is important to make memories with your children, and by playing outside or planning activities as a family, you are also teaching them how to live an active lifestyle.” Sounds like a winning winter plan to us.