Help prevent the spreading illnesses among the children in your care

Cold and flu season could almost be considered a year-round event in the close quarters of a child care environment. Young children have underdeveloped immune systems, do not know how germs are spread and are still in need of hygiene help which is the perfect recipe for viruses to multiply. It can also be difficult to constantly disinfect shared materials, which adds another layer of risk.

However, maintaining the health and wellness of the children, families, and staff of your child care center or family day home is essential to provide a safe and happy environment. Incorporating the following procedures into your daily routine can help avoid the spread of germs among the children in your care.

Daily inspection

As children arrive each morning, ask parents questions to find out how their child’s night and morning went, such as if they slept well or ate breakfast. Also, give each child a quick visual inspection to assess their general health and make sure they are well enough to attend that day without spreading illness. Check the following during your brief assessment:

  • Scalp: Are there any signs of itching, sores, or lice? If lice are present, children need to be sent home for proper treatment.
  • Face: Does the child’s general appearance seem normal? An expression of discomfort or unusual color may be worth closer attention or follow-up questions with a parent.
  • Eyes: Is there irritation, puffiness, redness, squinting, frequent rubbing, sensitivity to light, sties, or discharge? All could be symptoms of illness.
  • Nose: Is the child showing signs of a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, or frequent rubbing?
  • Chest: Is the child coughing frequently, wheezing, having difficulty breathing, or sounding high-pitched croupy or whooping while coughing?
  • Skin: Are there unusual spots, signs of a rash, bumps, bruises, unusual injuries, or yellow color to the skin?

If the child is coughing or indicates that they have a sore throat, you can check their mouth for redness, spots, or sores. You can also check their throat to see if the child’s tonsils are enlarged, irritated, or if there are any visible spots.

Although it seems like a long list, incorporating this visual assessment into each day only takes a few minutes and can prevent spreading illness to other children.

Establish handwashing procedures

The most effective way to reduce the spread of germs is plain old-fashioned handwashing. It can be a difficult habit to instill in small children, but it’s essential to good health. Modeling appropriate handwashing techniques and making it a regular part of your routine for infants and toddlers can help keep the children in your care feeling well.

Wash hands:

  • Upon arrival
  • After outdoor play
  • After restroom use or diaper changes
  • Before and after meals
  • Before shared water play
  • After sand or water play
  • After dealing with bodily fluids such as running noses, vomit, blood or skin contact if open sores are present

Proper handwashing techniques are important too. Have each child wash their hands individually at the sink – and don’t forget that washing a child’s hands does not mean that your own hands have been washed. Each person in the caregiving environment needs to do the following:

  • Moisten hands with warm water and liquid soap
  • Rub hands together for 20 seconds (slowly sing the Alphabet song to help track time)
  • Rinse hands thoroughly under running water
  • Dry hands with a clean paper towel
  • Turn the water off using a paper towel and dispose of it in the trash

Create an illness policy

Establishing a clear written illness policy can help guide parents in deciding about attendance. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a child should stay home if they have the following symptoms:

  • Signs of severe illness including irritability, labored breathing, prolonged crying, or lethargy
  • Signs of blood or mucus in diarrhea or stool
  • Vomiting two or more times in 24 hours
  • Mouth sores and drooling until cleared by a doctor as not infectious
  • Fever, rash, or change in behavior until seen by a doctor and determined not to be contagious

If a child is unable to participate in daily activities comfortably, needs more individual care than a caregiver can provide with other children present, or may spread illness to others, it’s in the best interest of everyone involved for that child not to attend until they are feeling better.

Taking the time to visually evaluate children, create healthy habits around handwashing, and communicating your illness policy to parents can help all of the children and families in your care enjoy a healthier, happier care experience.

The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.