With the upcoming cold and flu season, now is the time to start thinking about boosting your child’s immune system. Many parents think that runny noses, constant colds and stomach bugs are just par for the course with young children in school or day care, but they don’t have to be. While you can’t shield children from every bug around, the best way to fight many of them off is by implementing healthy habits.

Make great diet a habit. A child’s immune system can take a hit if they’re constantly eating a diet high in additives, preservatives and sugar or if they have an undiagnosed food allergy. All these things can affect digestion and increase inflammation, making it more difficult to fight viruses or bacteria. Instead of highly processed foods, make sure your child is getting plenty of fresh, whole foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, lean proteins and unprocessed whole grains. If your child has unexplained, rashes, eczema or a constantly runny nose or other symptoms that have you questioning a food allergy, it may be worth looking into. Providing a variety of vegetables ensures that they get plenty of phytonutrients to keep them healthy - aim for about five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Give them healthy bugs. Probiotics are healthy bacteria, which naturally occur in the gut. They help protect the digestive tract, get rid of toxins, digest food and may even boost immunity. While you could ask your pediatrician to help you find the right dose, you can also start by implementing probiotic-rich foods. Some kid-friendly options are plain organic yogurt topped with fresh fruit, kefir, or sauerkraut.

Decrease stress. Children’s bodies react the same way as adults to stress and elevated stress hormones can lead to decreased immunity. Going to school may not seem stressful to us, but for children, it can be — especially if it’s their first time away from home, or if they’re starting a new school. Nowadays, children are as overstressed as adults thanks to our fast paced, over-scheduled, lives. Having plenty of down time for rest and creative play can help lower their stress levels and keep them from getting sick. Making sure they have plenty of time to unwind, as well as relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, which can help them decompress, are critical for keeping the immune functioning properly.

Get plenty of sleep. Depending on age, children need between 10 and 14 hours of sleep a day, and many children aren’t getting enough. Sleep deprivation can lower the immune system, making children more susceptible to being affected by germs and bacteria. When children are overtired and over stimulated, which is very common during the first few weeks of school, it can be harder for them to fall asleep. Instead of letting them become overtired, make sure they have at least an hour to decompress without the use of electronics before bed, and get them to bed early enough to get a good night’s sleep.

Try herbs and supplements. Some supplements can do wonders do boost the immune system. The key is to take them on a regular basis to keep immunity high, instead of waiting until sickness has already struck. Vitamin C can help fight of germs and zinc is a safe and effective way to keep germs at bay. Fermented cod liver oil boasts high levels of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K, which are very important — not only for immunity — but also for overall vitality. Elderberry syrup can also be taken for its anti-inflammatory and antiviral benefits. To find the right dose for your child, be sure to check with your pediatrician.

Jacqueline Banks is a certified holistic health counselor and busy mother.  Her focus is on helping other busy moms in all stages of motherhood keep themselves and their little ones healthy and happy.  She uses natural and organic solutions to solve individual health problems and promote clean living. Check out her website at www.jbholistic.com