How to Support Your Child’s Immune System as They Return to School Unvaccinated

children wearing masks at school

Most children are returning to in-person school and kids under 12 are still not eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but there are steps parents can take to help support their child's immune system.

Emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen notes the data on immune health and COVID is still not known but says these tips may improve someone's overall health, which is always beneficial. "We don't know the degree to which improving your immunity would ward off Covid in some way. That might make common sense, but we don't have the data to say that that's the case. However, from a common-sense perspective, we should be doing everything we can to improve health anyway," she tells CNN.

The expert-backed immune-supporting tips -- many of which are also recommended by the CDC -- parents should follow include:

Continue to wash hands regularly: "Handwashing is huge. It's the number one thing that we can teach our kids to wash their hands frequently, as much as their setting allows," Dr. Maya Adam, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, says. The experts say kids need to wash their hands when they get home from school and before eating.

Stay on top of other immunizations: Despite kids under 12 not being eligible for the COVID vaccine, the experts strongly urge parents to ensure their child has all of their other age-appropriate vaccinations.

Serve meals with healthy whole foods: The CDC notes, "Eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains as well as the appropriate amount of calories is important for your health... good nutrition can help support optimal immune function." CNN notes foods rich in Zinc and B, C and A vitamins may be beneficial to immune health as well.

Gut health is important for kids too: "The microbiome in our gastrointestinal tract helps regulate how our immune system works," CNN explains, and encourages kids to eat foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and suggests consuming foods in their whole forms (which contain more fiber) when possible.

Get good and adequate sleep: Sleep is vital to so many aspects of our health, including immune function, and the experts stress the importance of creating healthy and consistent sleep routines for children. The CDC warns, "Insufficient sleep has been linked to depression, as well as chronic diseases that may increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity."

Monitor and try to reduce stress: CNN notes that chronic stress has been shown to depress the immune system and their experts encourage parents to keep an open dialogue with their kids about how they are feeling. Dr. Adam suggests, "If you're going to eat, try and time it so that you can eat with your kids and talk to them. There's a lot of research that's been done on mealtimes and how beneficial that is for kids' mental health because it gives them a regular forum where they can bring up things... it's much less effective to go to a child and say, 'Is anything bothering you?'"

Play outside as much as possible: Being active is vital for all of us, especially kids, and the experts suggest getting outside to play when possible. The CDC also notes, "Physical activity can also help prevent diseases that increase a person’s chances of having severe illness from COVID-19 such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes [and] emerging research suggests it may also help boost immune function."

The Doctors encourage parents to get their kids vaccinated if they are eligible. Find out where to get your free COVID-19 vaccine, here or search vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find locations near you in the U.S.

More: Why Now Is a Dangerous Time of the Pandemic for Kids

More: COVID Delta Variant: What’s Safer to Do & What’s Risky

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Playing Drs. Rx: The Boost to Your Immune System

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