As temperatures start to drop, parents know what may be coming: seasonal sickness. But of course, child illnesses occur throughout the year. In fact, the average toddler comes down with six to eight colds per year, and the average school-aged child may contract as many as 12 colds on an annual basis! Because children get sick anywhere from once a month to once every two months, it’s no wonder that nearly 22 million school days are lost every year due to the common cold.
Part of the problem, of course, is that germs can be found just about anywhere — and young children are extremely likely to pick them up. The germs that cause colds and even the flu can survive on classroom surfaces for up to 72 hours! The National Public Health and Safety Foundation also found that the average classroom water fountain spigot was found to have 2.7 million colony forming units of aerobic bacteria per square inch. That’s far more than classroom computer keyboards, classroom animal cages, and bathroom toilet seats combined. To make matters worse, children touch and retouch more than 300 surfaces in a half-hour span — and every three minutes, a child brings their hands up to their nose or mouth. It’s actually surprising that children don’t get sick more often than they already do.

While you obviously can’t prevent all illnesses, there are healthy habits parents can encourage in their children to cut down on the likelihood that they’ll get sick. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the best ways to safeguard your health is to wash your hands properly and frequently. As soon as your child comes home from school or comes indoors from playing outside, they should wash their hands. You should teach your child to lather their hands thoroughly with soap, scrub together for at least 20 seconds (e.g., the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice through), rinse, and dry. Be sure to remind your child in creative ways until hand-washing becomes an automatic activity.

Frequent colds cause enough concern as it is, but germs aren’t the only hazard children face at school. Recess can be a great thing for your child’s health, as it’s a good way to promote physical activity. However, playground equipment can actually be quite dangerous. U.S. emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children under the age of 14 every year for playground-related injuries. Many of these injuries can be serious; around 45% of playground injuries involve concussions, dislocations, severe fractures, internal injuries, and even amputations.

To make sure your child stays safe while on the playground, you should take a visual assessment of the equipment and the ground itself. The playground area should be covered with soft material and free of trip hazards. There should also be guardrails in place and all equipment should be in good working condition. Supervision during playtime is important too, as this can restrict activities to ones that are age-appropriate (and subsequently prevent physical injuries).

Your child’s school should always be a healthy and safe environment. Unfortunately, there are potential risks both in the classroom and outside on the playground. But if you’re proactive about establishing and maintaining healthy habits and smart decision-making, you can help your child stay well this season.