While kids are supposed to have an innate immunity, this changes as they grow. Studies have shown that various factors can contribute to weakening a child’s immune system, with stress being the main culprit.

Family dysfunction, difficult school exams, team sports, competitions, moving home, changes to their daily routine, schoolwork, bullying, and abuse (among others) can stress a child and weaken their immune system. That means their growing bodies will not be able to produce enough white blood cells to fight germs and infections.

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to eliminate every overwhelming experience from a child’s life. But you can boost their ability to ward off infections despite the stress. Here are some effective ways to build up your child’s immune system

Give them five servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables daily

Don’t wait for germs and infections to come knocking before giving your child fruits and veggies; start now. Kids need all the immunity boosters they can get, and few things can provide that better than fruits and vegetables, preferably brightly-colored ones. The best options include carrots, green beans, strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkin, summer squash, and oranges. Leafy green veggies like broccoli, kale, and spinach are also excellent options. Such foods contain carotenoids, which are immune-boosting phytonutrients.

Studies have shown that phytonutrients can increase the body’s infection-fighting white blood cell count. They can also increase the body’s interferon production. Interferon is an antibody that covers white blood cell surfaces, making it easier to block out viruses. It may be challenging, but experts advise getting your child to eat 5 servings of brightly-colored fruits and vegetables daily.

Manage their stress

Your kids may not be working to pay the bills, but they deal with stressful situations daily. As mentioned earlier, schoolwork challenges, bullying, family issues, and abuse (to mention a few) are very stressful experiences for them. Expecting them to push through independently is not advisable because you have more pressing issues. Find ways to help them manage those situations; that’s the least you can do for them.

Stress makes the body less healthy and more prone to infections. But they can also have damaging mental health effects. So, even if you give them their daily dose of phytonutrients, pay attention to their emotional health. Start by ensuring they have enough downtime to play, with access to activities or things that make them happy. Let them grow up in a safe and emotionally stable home, and encourage them to open up about their challenges.

Serve meals rich in vitamin D and zinc

Most kids should get the necessary vitamin D by soaking up the sunlight when playing outside. But that isn’t always the case, especially as most parents prefer their kids wear sunscreen when outside. So, the next best option is to give them vitamin D through food.

Their typical menu should include fatty fish like trout, tuna, sardines, salmon, mushrooms, yogurt, milk, or non-dairy alternatives. But since vitamin D is more soluble when combined with fatty foods, add a little snack containing fat to their meals. Alternatively, consider vitamin D supplements. 

Aside from vitamin D, zinc is another important immune-boosting nutrient. Poultry, red meat, oysters, beans, and other protein-based foods are excellent sources of zinc. However, be careful not to give them too much or exceed the recommended limit. Children 1-3 years should not exceed 7 mg, 4 to 8-year-olds should get not more than 12 mg, and 9 to 13-year-olds should not exceed 23 mg daily zinc intake. 

Don’t skip immunizations

Childhood immunizations are supposed to protect your little ones from the most common diseases and infections. Visit your pediatrician and follow their guidance regarding the right childhood vaccination schedule. While vaccination begins in infancy, it continues to adulthood, strengthening the immune system to prevent common health conditions like measles, rotavirus, chicken pox, mumps, and other infections.

Also, ensure that your child gets the flu shot every year. That is particularly important if your little one has asthma or other chronic health conditions that make way for opportunistic diseases. If you plan to travel internationally with your kids, please consult your healthcare provider about the necessary vaccinations. 

Keep them hydrated 

Hydration plays a key role in boosting immunity. Various studies show that drinking enough water helps to support various physiological functions in the body, which are essential for immune response. Staying hydrated can help maintain proper circulation, allowing white blood cells to travel to all body areas to locate infections and signs of inflammation.

Also, hydration supports lymph production and its travel throughout the body. Lymph carries immune cells and supports them in eliminating toxins. But that’s not all; the body can produce saliva and mucous membranes with adequate hydration. These act as a barrier against pathogens, ensuring these harmful substances do not enter the body.

Drinking enough water also hydrates body tissues that support the production of antibodies and cytokines – two key components of the immune response. Hydration also supports the skin, making it healthy. You can learn more by checking out articles like “How to hydrate skin: 9 tips for boosting moisture.”

Teach them good hygiene

Kids are not too young to learn the importance of good hygiene. They are ready to learn when they start moving around unaided. Studies show that one of the main reasons children have recurring coughs and colds is that they overexpose themselves to unhygienic and compromised surroundings without supervision. Instead of always monitoring their whereabouts, you should teach them the basic dos and don’ts of good hygiene.

Children can learn basic things like washing their hands, especially after using the bathroom, and covering their mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. But don’t just teach good hygiene; practice it too. Ensure your home is always clean, laundry is washed on time, and dishes are done. Kids can learn a lot about hygiene from what they see at home. Also, a filthy home is the last place you want to build your child’s immune system.

Get them moving and then resting properly

Physical activity is a must if you want to raise a strong and healthy child. With many digital devices now available, fewer kids are willing to play outside. But try making outdoor playtime mandatory, without any digital gadgets. Take the time to explore your outdoors, go for walks, visit the local park, kids’ park, or any other outdoor environment where they can have fun.

Outdoor time also exposes them to relatively harmless bacteria that form naturally in outdoor environments, prompting their immune systems to start working. As the immune system begins to handle such bacteria, it develops to deal with the more serious ones.

After playtime, resting should follow. Some studies show that sleep deprivation can put kids at greater risk of catching the common cold and flu. Your children need to get between 10 and 13 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Teenagers can do 8 to 10 hours of nighttime sleep. During rest, their bodies can develop the cytokines to fight infections and inflammation. 

Banish secondhand smoke in your home

You may not be able to control who smokes outside, but you can banish any form of secondhand smoking inside your home. Cigarette smoke is particularly harmful, as it contains more than 7000 toxic chemicals, many of which can irritate or kill cells in the body. If anyone is used to smoking in the family, find a way to get them to quit. If that’s impossible, they should only smoke outdoors and not inside the home.

Kids are more susceptible to the dangers of secondhand smoke than adults, as their natural detoxification system isn’t developed enough. Children breathe faster, meaning they’ll inhale more of any lingering smoke than adults.