Learn how the immune system works and how to build a healthy immune system for kids with the info and tips in this post.
Baby-proofing outlets and furniture corners…
Water safety lessons for infants and toddlers…
Minimizing “screen time” and social media usage for tweens and teens…
Piling healthy foods onto your child’s plate at any age…
As a parent, one of your most important jobs is keeping your child healthy.
But you’re not the only one working to maintain your child’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
Their immune system is right there beside you, sometimes even working overtime to ensure that your child is healthy enough and strong enough to enjoy a long, active life.
But while your child’s immune system might be doing the “heavy lifting” when it comes to their good health, as a parent, it’s up to you to help build your child’s immunity.
Let’s take a closer look at how your child’s immune system works and what you can do to support it.
Understanding Your Child’s Immune System
Just as nations have armies to defend them, your child’s body has its immune system to keep them safe.
In fact, you can think of your child’s immune system as their body’s version of the military.
Your child’s immune system works in different branches or “departments,” which act as their body’s defense to fight infections and shield them from illness.
These departments include:
- White blood cells: White blood cells (or leukocytes) recognize and fight off the bad guys whenever and wherever needed. One important type of white blood cell is the lymphocyte, which includes B-cells, T-cells, and natural killer cells. Lymphocytes remember the invading microbes in the body—and how they were previously defeated—so they can fight them off faster when the body is attacked in the future.
- Bone marrow: Bone marrow is where the body’s white blood cells are produced.
- Lymph nodes: Lymph nodes function as filters. They trap viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens before these dangerous invaders can cause trouble.
- The spleen: This organ helps remove damage and clean out old blood cells from the body.
- The thymus: The thymus filters and monitors the blood. It also produces white blood cells called T-lymphocytes.
- Phagocytes: These cells are capable of engulfing and absorbing bacteria and other, smaller cells. The two most important cells involved in these responses are neutrophils and macrophages.
- Neutrophils are the most common phagocytes. Their main function is to eliminate pathogens and other harmful microorganisms. Neutrophils enter through the bloodstream but travel throughout your body to wherever invaders are found. When a neutrophil finds a pathogen, it surrounds and ingests it in a process known as phagocytosis. Surprisingly enough, neutrophils only survive a few days.
- Macrophages are long-lived cells that can be found in almost all of your body’s tissues. They also use phagocytosis to trap invaders. The most important function of macrophages is activating other parts of the immune system through cytokines—chemical signals that help recruit other immune cells to an infected area as “backups” to fight illness.
Just like the military, the immune system has “special forces” that take over when pathogens get past the skin, mucus membrane, and the above organs and tissues. These “special forces” are part of the adaptive immune system, and their primary function is to stop any current infection and trigger immunologic memory.
According to the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP): “The adaptive immune response is driven by the activities of cells called antigen-presenting cells (APCs). Three cell types can serve as APCs—dendritic cells, macrophages, and B cells. Of these, dendritic cells are the most common and powerful APC type. They are considered to be the bridge between the innate and adaptive immune responses.”
All of these “military branches” of the immune system work together to fight existing infections, both bacterial and viral, and keep your child’s immune system functioning at its best.
However, thanks to our modern world, with its stress, uncertainty, and an ever-increasing number of environmental toxins, kids are still vulnerable to sickness.
That’s why supporting your child’s immunity should be one of your top priorities as a parent.
Now that you have the background on how our bodies work to fight off illness, let’s dive into the most effective ways you can support your child’s immune system.
8 Tips to Support a Healthy Immune System for Kids
Try these eight immune-supporting strategies to help fortify your child’s immune system and keep them strong and healthy all year round.
1. Fill Their Plate with Immunity Nutrients
If you choose your child’s foods wisely, their diet can be one of their immune system’s biggest allies. Luckily, we live in a time when we have so much access to the nutrients that positively impact the immune response.
And that’s a good thing, too. Because when your kids have access to the healthy nutrients they need, it decreases their susceptibility to sickness AND reduces the symptoms if they do get sick.
Here’s the key that unlocks your child’s immunity: make sure you’re providing your child with all the nutrient building blocks they need to keep their immune systems in fighting form.
Below are some of the most important nutrients (and their whole-food counterparts) you’ll want to serve for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Widely renowned as an immune supporter, vitamin C is necessary for the growth, development, and repair of all body tissues.
Primarily found in citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes), it can also be sourced in vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, peppers, and leafy greens.
Your body cannot produce vitamin A from scratch, which makes it an essential micronutrient.
It’s readily found in sweet potato, liver, carrots, tomatoes, squash, cantaloupe, and green leafy vegetables.
This vitamin is vital to your immune system, and it’s a powerful antioxidant, helping your body fight off infection.
It’s found plentifully in sunflower seeds, pumpkin, beet greens, almonds, hazelnuts, broccoli, and spinach.
There are 13 different types of B vitamins, and all have a direct impact on your energy levels, brain function, and immunity.
Get B vitamins naturally from salmon, leafy greens, nutritional yeast, eggs, beef, legumes, and sunflower seeds.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Though we can’t make these ourselves, omega-3s have fantastic anti-inflammatory properties that support our immune function.
Get your omegas via salmon, mackerel, sardines, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed.
A balanced diet that puts an emphasis on vegetables and whole foods will do wonders for your child’s overall well-being.
Pro Parent Tip: To help ensure a healthy variety of nutrients, see how many colors of the rainbow you can put on your kiddos’ plate each meal.
2. More Water, Please!
Water is essential for the health and survival of every single cell in the human body.
Why is water so important for kids?
- Along with keeping the body hydrated, water helps transport important nutrients and oxygen to and from the immune system for optimal functioning.
- A well-hydrated body can help flush out toxins that could wreak havoc on your child’s health, helping them avoid all manner of illnesses.
- Water is also great for digestion. It helps ensure kids are drawing enough vitamins and minerals from the nutritious foods you serve, keeping your child energetic and healthy.
For kids, water comprises 75% of their body weight. Therefore, keeping your child well-hydrated is essential for a healthy immune system.
How much water should your child drink in a day?
The amount of water your child needs for a tip-top immune system varies according to their age.
- 4 to 8 years old: at least 5 cups of water per day
- 9 to 13 years old: 8 cups daily
- 14 to 18 years old: to 11 cups per day
Also, quality matters! Always serve your child filtered, non-distilled water.
3. Practice Daily Hygiene and Good Cough EtiquetteMake sure your child knows the proper hand washing technique
- Use soap and water.
- Scrub the whole hand, including the wrist.
- Wash for at least 20 seconds. For younger kids, it might be easier to teach them a snippet of a song. When they’re done singing, they’re done washing.
- Rinse thoroughly with running water.
Of course, it’s best to keep your child home if they have signs of illness, including a cough. That’s the first step in good cough etiquette.
But while your child is at home, you still want to keep the rest of the family healthy. And, once they’re no longer contagious, they might still have a lingering cough while out in public places.
To cut back on possible germ transmission, here are 4 steps that you can teach your child to cover their cough the right way.
- If you’re going out, make sure you bring facial tissues with you in case your child needs to cough or sneeze.
- If you’re in a crowded space, move away from people before your child makes the achoo.
- Cover your child’s mouth with a tissue before coughing and throw it in the trash can afterward. You can also bring disposable plastic bags to throw away tissues if a trash bin is not available nearby.
- Wash your child’s hands after coughing. If soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer can be a great alternative.
Teach your child to avoid coughing into their hands. Instead, show them how to cough into the crook of their elbows.
4. Show Your Kids the Door
There’s a whole world that exists outside your front door, and as a parent, it’s up to you to remind your child of this fact as often as possible.
Encourage your kiddos to go outside as much as possible… and not just during spring and summer. Even in the cooler months, your child should be getting outside all year round to maximize their intake of the “sunshine vitamin,” aka vitamin D.
Every single cell in your body requires vitamin D. But when it comes to your immune system, it’s especially crucial!
Many studies point to the beneficial effect of vitamin D on immune function and its ability to keep you healthy.
However, when kids don’t get enough outdoor time, they can quickly become deficient in vitamin D.
Low levels of vitamin D are linked to immunodeficiency, autoimmune issues, muscle weakness, pain, fatigue, and depression.
Pro Parent Tip: Don’t just send the kids outside; make time for the whole family to be outdoors together. Pick a time during the week to boycott electronics and head outside to play sports, go for a walk, or just hang out and chat. When the weather is nice, planning to have meals outdoors is a great way to keep vitamin D levels optimal.
5. Let Them Get Dirty
Speaking of being outdoors, let’s face it: kids draw dirt to them like magnets. Whether it’s a muddy puddle or a pile of sticks and stones, curious young minds are naturally eager to explore the world around them.
And while you may be tempted to remind them, “Don’t get dirty!”, here’s some good news: you don’t have to worry about them getting dirty. In fact, you should encourage it!
Studies show that kids who are exposed to dirt are actually healthier than kids raised in a sterile, ultra-hygienic environment.
And the reason why is bacteria. Specifically, the soil-based spore bacteria found in nature.
This type of bacteria is known as beneficial bacteria, the kind you want in your child’s system. It helps train their immune response and supports their resilience to harmful bacteria, viruses, infections, and other invaders.
So go ahead, let them get dirty when they play outside. After all, “dirt won’t hurt.”
6. Don’t Snooze on Sleep
When it comes to sleep, both quantity and quality matter.
During sleep, the immune system produces more cytokines, a protein that helps the body reduce damage from invading bad guys.
With a proper and healthy sleeping schedule, your child is more likely to develop a healthy immune system, compared to children with poor sleeping patterns.
And, when your child gets enough sleep, their body naturally increases infection-fighting antibodies and cells that keep them safe against any uninvited guests.
To help your child get enough sleep, create (and follow) a bedtime routine. A little light reading or warm bath can prepare them, physically and mentally, for a good night’s sleep.
How much sleep does your child need?Below are the ideal sleep hours for kids according to the National Sleep Foundation:
- Under 1 year: 12 to 16 hours a day
- 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours a day
- 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours a day
- 6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours a day
- 13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours a day
Make sleep time a priority, because a well-rested child is a healthy child.
7. Reduce Your Child’s StressSocial media… peer pressure… “mean girls”... school projects… sports and other competitive events…
Chances are, your child is under much more stress than you realize. And unfortunately, stress is a huge factor when it comes to proper immune function.
Research clearly shows the detrimental effects of stress on the immune system.
When your body is under stress, it releases a hormone known as cortisol to regulate your reactions to your stressors. In small amounts, cortisol can be beneficial.
But constant stress can lead to an accumulation of cortisol, which can compromise the immune response.
Your child might not know how to manage, or even express, their feelings of stress. So it’s up to you, as a parent, to help them manage stress.
Here are a few things you can do to reduce your child’s stress levels.
- Teach your child how to meditate, even for a few minutes. If they’re very young, simply encouraging them to take big, cleansing breaths can lower their stress levels.
- Set reasonable goals and expectations for your child.
- Make sure your child gets enough rest and enough sleep.
- Keep communications with your child open, non-judgmental, and positive. Let them know that they can always come to you for help when they feel overwhelmed, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
8. Add Immune Supplements to Your Child’s Diet
Adding immune-supporting supplements to your child’s diet is especially important for kids who are picky eaters, as they might not be getting enough of a variety of healthy foods. (Talk to your child’s doctor or pediatrician before starting them on a new supplementation regimen.)
Here are the top 4 supplements to help reinforce your child’s immune system.
Zinc is one of the most important minerals for your child’s immune system. It can encourage immune cell function and maintain healthy oxidative stress levels in the body.
However, since zinc isn’t naturally produced by the body, you’ll have to provide it through food choices or supplements.
Below is the following recommended daily intake of zinc for children according to the National Institute of Health (NIH):
- Birth to 6 months: 2 mg
- Infants 7–12 months: 3 mg
- Children 1–3 years: 3 mg
- Children 4–8 years: 5 mg
- Children 9–13 years: 8 mg
- Teens 14–18 years (boys): 11 mg
- Teens 14–18 years (girls): 9 mg
A growing number of research studies show that probiotics help with digestion and immune system function, especially for kids.
Since our gut is home to a tremendous amount of bacteria, creating a balance of more beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and less unhealthy bacteria (pathogens) will pay huge health dividends.
In fact, one recent study showed that children who were given probiotics every day for 3 months were healthier compared to those given a placebo.
Supplementing probiotics in your kid’s diet, therefore, provides key health benefits for strong gut health and immunity.
Pro Parent Tip: When sourcing a probiotic product, make sure to look for a supplement with spore-based strains. These are the only types of probiotics guaranteed to survive your harsh stomach acid and arrive in the intestines alive and ready to go to work.
Prebiotics are plant fibers that help increase the growth of good bacteria in the body.
Think of your gut like a garden. Just as the right fertilizer can help your garden grow, our prebiotics act like a fertilizer for your good gut bugs and can help your beneficial bacteria thrive!
The problem with most prebiotics on the market is that they feed BOTH the bad bacteria and good bacteria. This can lead to an imbalance in your gut microbiome, which can set the stage for numerous health challenges.
So, when you’re sourcing a prebiotic product, look for ones that are formulated to support only the growth of beneficial bacteria for optimal digestive and immune health.
What probiotics can do for your gut health, psychobiotics can do for your mental health.
Research shows that the bacteria in psychobiotics can:
- Positively impact your mood
- Help manage feelings of stress
- Encourage emotional resilience
- Balance cortisol levels
For your child, a daily psychobiotic supplement can be just what they need to help them manage their emotions in a healthy way.
Support Your Child’s Immune System From Within
A strong immune system is necessary for your child’s physical, emotional, and mental health.
And while their immune system may be the first line of defense, you can help by providing it extra ammunition in the fight against invaders, such as pathogens and viruses.
Here are the must-haves that’ll fortify your child’s immune system and keep them healthy, happy, and active.
1. Just Thrive Probiotic, to promote the strength and numbers of the beneficial bacteria already in your child’s gut microbiome.
The spore-based bacteria in Just Thrive Probiotic are guaranteed to “arrive alive” in your child’s gut, ready to get to work and support a healthy immune response.
If your child has trouble swallowing supplements, you can break open a Just Thrive Probiotic capsule and sprinkle it onto their favorite meal, smoothie, or snack. They’ll get the same amazing benefits, without you having to sweet-talk your child into taking their probiotic.
You can also give your child Just Thrive Probiotic Gummies. The gummies are just as effective as a capsule, but easy and fun for kids to take.
2. Just Thrive PREbiotic, the “fertilizer” that helps probiotics flourish.
With 3 unique “smart” fibers that feed only the good bacteria, Precision PREbiotic has been clinically proven to more than double the population of beneficial bacteria. It supports a healthy gut and a healthy immune system for your child.
3. Just Calm, a psychobiotic that fortifies your child’s immune system by stopping stress in its tracks.
This stress-busting supplement is proven to enhance your child’s mood, balance their cortisol levels, and support better sleep—all critical steps for reducing stress and reinforcing the immune system.
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- Parts of the immune system. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Published April 16, 2019. Accessed August 29, 2023. https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/human-immune-system/parts-immune-system.
- Gavin ML, ed. Why Drinking Water Is the Way to Go. Nemours KidsHealth. Updated March 2022. Accessed August 29, 2023. https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/water.html/.
- Frei, R, Heye, K, Roduit, C. Environmental influences on childhood allergies and asthma — The Farm effect. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2022; 33:e13807. doi:10.1111/pai.13807
- Morey JN, Boggero IA, Scott AB, Segerstrom SC. Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Curr Opin Psychol. 2015;5:13-17. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.03.007
- Zinc Fact Sheet for Consumers. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Accessed August 29, 2023. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-Consumer/.
- The Pros and Cons of Probiotics for Kids. Geisinger. Published March 12, 2021. Accessed August 29, 2023. https://www.geisinger.org/health-and-wellness/wellness-articles/2018/02/09/13/53/the-pros-and-cons-of-probiotics-for-kids.
- Del Toro-Barbosa M, Hurtado-Romero A, Garcia-Amezquita LE, García-Cayuela T. Psychobiotics: Mechanisms of Action, Evaluation Methods and Effectiveness in Applications with Food Products. Nutrients. 2020;12(12):3896. Published 2020 Dec 19. doi:10.3390/nu12123896