I'll never forget the first year my husband worked in an elementary school, no matter how hard I try. All of us, my husband, myself, and our baby, spent the entire fall and winter sick. It was miserable. In the years since, my husband developed that super-strength teacher immunity, and I now send my own children to school. We've picked up a few tricks along the way for keeping our kids germ free throughout cold and flu season. Here are a few of our favorites for you to try.

Costume change!

This family ritual is a favorite for my 5-year-old. A few years back, we found out our second child has severe food allergies which lead to a suppressed immune system. Combined with his asthma, bad things happen when he gets sick. Our pediatrician suggested all those who went to school, my husband and older son, change clothes as soon as they got home each day.

Bacteria and viruses live on clothes for up to 12 hours. Every time you hug and snuggle with a child wearing infected clothing is an opportunity to spread the illness. Have your school-aged children change at least their shirts when they get home to protect the rest of the family. It creates more laundry, but it's a fair trade-off to avoid sickness.

Wash up to the elbows

The most effective way to stop the spread of illness is hand washing. Teach your kids to do it right - lather with warm water and hum "Happy Birthday" two times while scrubbing vigorously. Although it's counter-intuitive, antibacterial soaps don't make hand washing more effective, and these soaps may lead to lower immunity over time. The most important ingredient to wash away germs are surfactants, which are found in all regular soaps.

We retrained our kids to wash not just their hands, but also their forearms up to the elbow and their faces before eating. Let's face it, kids get a lot more than just their hands dirty, so they need to clean a larger surface area.

Use proper sneeze etiquette

Ideally, we'd all sneeze into a tissue, but what fourth grader carries around a hanky? While it's not completely effective, teaching kids to sneeze into their elbows is a better option than sneezing into their hands or going uncovered. Each time a kid sneezes into his hand, he transmits germs to everything he touches, including door knobs, toys and kitchen utensils. Not exactly what I want floating around my house.

Use the right antibacterial products

Now that we've debunked the myths about antibacterial soaps, don't write off antibacterial products completely. Antibacterial wipes are a mom's best friend during the cold and flu season. Grab a few each day and wipe down commonly touched surfaces, especially door knobs, phones, keyboards and food prep areas.

I also like to wipe down items coming home from school. Backpacks, writing utensils, and the homework folder collect germs from everyone in the class, not just my family. No reason to infect my whole household.

Get enough sleep

No matter how good a job you do preventing transmission, some germs will still creep into our children's systems. Our kids need every resource available to fight infection before it becomes full-blown illness. We enforce a strict bedtime each night, and I've even added in mandatory weekend naps when my kids are coming down with something. Studies show that adequate sleep helps both kids and adults avoid illness.

Help your kids manage their time wisely so they don't need to stay up late finishing homework. Also, make sure your winter schedule isn't so full that it cuts into sleep time, and keep kids home to rest if they do come down with something.

Combining a bunch of germy kids in one building for seven or more hours each day is a recipe for sickness, but you can fight back. Keep your entire family healthy this cold and flu season by dedicating a couple of minutes each day to stopping the spread of germs.

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