Courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Written by Melissa Haig, Public Health Educator

It’s time for kids to go back to school, and every parent knows this also means it’s time for kids to swap germs. Each year as my kids step into their classrooms, I start counting the days to our first set of sniffles, cough, or fever. It’s inevitable, but we can take steps now to build healthy habits and build up our children’s protection against illnesses to help keep them healthy and ready to learn.  


Remind your kids of proper hand washing technique. I spend my day working in public health, and even my 6-year-old daughter still needs to be reminded that handwashing involves soap! 

Kids touch everything. Reminding them that one of the easiest ways to stop spreading germs is frequent handwashing can go a long way to keeping them (and your entire household) healthy. It is especially important to wash hands before eating, after using the bathroom, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. 

Teach your kids these steps to make sure they’re washing those germs away: 

  1. Get your hands wet (water temperature doesn’t matter).
  2. Rub soap into your hands for at least 20 seconds. Try singing happy birthday or the ABCs twice to make sure you’re washing long enough.
  3. Rinse your hands under running water.
  4. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them. 

If they don’t have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizer instead.

Cover coughs and sneezes

Teach kids to cover their coughs and sneezes. Germs spread through the air and settle onto surfaces like desks and computer keyboards. When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. If you don’t have a tissue, cough, or sneeze into your elbow. Then remember to wash your hands!

Stay up to date with vaccinations

Check your child’s vaccination record. To prevent sickness before it starts, keep your kids up to date on their vaccinations. Getting a vaccine is a lot like the lessons kids learn in school. Vaccines contain information that your body “reads” about how to detect and react to certain germs. So while a vaccine leaves your body quickly, it leaves behind a lesson that has taught your body how to protect itself when exposed to that germ again. This means that when that germ comes along, your child may have no symptoms or less severe symptoms and may be less likely to spread germs to others. That means less missed school, a healthier kiddo, and a healthier classroom for all. 

You can check which vaccines your child has had, and which they may need, on the Wisconsin Immunization Registry website. Contact a health care provider or your local health department to schedule an appointment to get your kids up to date.

Stay home when sick

Finally, if your kids do get sick, follow your school’s guidelines about when they should stay home. When sick kids stay home, it keeps germs away from others. Most schools require kids who have a fever or are vomiting to stay home. Contact your school to find their guidelines. 

Handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, getting vaccines, and staying home when you are sick are all ways to help kids stay healthy at school (and in life!). Put them all together and your kids have a great foundation for a healthy school year.

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