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Good to Go: Winter tips to keep kids healthy at day care, preschool

Thursday - 11/21/2013, 7:38am  ET

DayCare.jpg
Keep your kids and your family free of bugs this cold-and-flu season with some advice from a child care professional. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON - The littlest of people can come home with biggest of germs -- many of which are acquired during time spent at day care or school.

But there are some steps you can take before you find yourself asking, "How sick is too sick to send my kid to day care?"

Evgeniya "Jen" Usmanova, co-founder of CareLuLu, an online resource for parents seeking child care options in the D.C. area, says parents and caregivers can play a proactive role in keeping their kids healthy at day care or school.

Usmanova says there are four questions parents should ask a child care provider -- especially this time of year as we approach cold and flu season.

Are the toys and surfaces kept clean? And with what types of cleaners?

  • Toys that infants and toddlers put in their mouths should be sanitized before others play with them.

  • Surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected throughout the day. Surfaces that are most likely to be contaminated are those where children maintain close contact, including crib rails, food preparation areas and diaper-changing areas.

  • The types of cleaners used by most child care centers contain a bleach solution, and these tend to be most effective. However, be sure these cleaners are nontoxic, safe, handled properly and kill most infectious agents.

  • The use of a dishwasher or hot cycle of a washing machine is helpful and will kill most germs on some toys.

What is the sick policy?

  • Be sure you understand and agree with the daycare's policy, and find out if it's being enforced. For example, do children need to be symptom-free for a full 24 hours before returning to the day care or school facility?

  • If your child becomes sick, will you be notified in a timely manner? What plans are in place to lower the chances that your child will get sick from exposure to another child who starts displaying symptoms, such as sneezing, sniffling, diarrhea or vomiting?

  • In many child care facilities, the staff will need a sick child to go home right away, although some facilities are able to provide care for sick kids in a separate area. Check to see if a facility offers a "get-well room" where a trained staff member tends to ill children.

  • Ask the staff if the children are able to go home when they are feeling sick and if they have the center's support when they believe a child should be sent home?

How often are employees asked to wash their hands?

  • More germs are spread by hands, so instituting good hand hygiene can cut down on germs. Frequent and thorough handwashing is important.

  • Ask if children and the staff are instructed to wash their hands throughout the day, including upon arrival at the facility, after use of the restroom, before and after handling food and when feeding a child or eating.

What steps do they take to actively fight germs?

  • Ask if rooms and equipment are cleaned and disinfected at least once a day.

  • Ask if there other proactive steps the facility takes to fight germs.

"Keep in mind there's only so much you can do to protect your kids from germs and sickness, it is an inevitable part of growing up and helps strengthen their immune system. Whether your child is in a day care center or not, they will get sick at some point," Usmanova says.

Being proactive at home can also protect the health of your child. Usmanova says making sure children receive healthy, balanced meals and get enough exercise and sleep are crucial to keeping their little immune systems strong.

Also, talk with your doctor about the flu vaccine. The flu can keep children home from school for several days and also expose other members of the family to the virus.

Editor's Note: WTOP's Katie Howard is a mom on the go. With two children under age 5, she's always looking for ways to provide her family fast and healthy snacks, meals and activities. Katie shares her go-to-go food and family fitness tips on her blog "Good to Go."

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