When my daughter got her first cold, which turned into croup, like many parents with their firstborn, I was worried. I barely slept at night because I was listening to her breathing and, of course, that unmistakable barking cough was keeping me awake, too. However, she felt better in just a few days, and we were all relieved. Getting sick from time to time is a normal part of growing up and an important part of training and developing the immune system. Children’s innate and adaptive immune system is immature as a newborn, but it matures and acquires memory as they grow. In fact, even though it may seem like your child brings home every single daycare virus, this is actually a good thing because it challenges their immune system so they can grow into a resilient teenager and adult.
Helping your child develop a healthy immune system will help them be more resilient, meaning that any sickness they do get will be shorter and less severe. Resilience also refers to the ability to bounce back after dealing with a stressful situation, whether that be a test or a disagreement with their friends at school. Resilience can be cultivated from both a nutritional and lifestyle perspective. This will give your child the tools to be the best version they can be!
Here are 5 ways to raise resilient children.
1. Support their microbiome
It is well established that 70–80% of the immune system resides in the gut. When a baby is born via a vaginal birth, it swallows massive loads of mom’s vaginal and fecal bacteria as it travels through the birth canal. These microbes become the first bugs to colonize the gut so that from day one, bacteria get to work educating the immune system.
When a mother breastfeeds, she passes along microbes that are associated with a decreased risk of allergies and other problems of the immune system. Beyond infancy, there are many things you can do, as a parent, to support your child’s microbiome, including feeding them a colourful diet rich in phytonutrients, probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics are something I recommend to all parents as they’re an amazing way to support your child’s gut microbiome (more on that later). A healthy gut microbiome has many benefits, including a reduced risk of asthma and allergies, and less incidences of digestive problems, such as constipation, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. Certain bacteria, such as L. rhamnosus, can even help support a healthy mental outlook and cognitive function in children.
2. Eat the rainbow
Eating a variety of colourful plant foods ensures that your child consumes a ton of phytonutrients. (Phyto simply means “plant.”) Phytonutrients come in the thousands and they’re the beneficial compounds in plants that give them their unique taste, texture and colour. They have hundreds of benefits for kids. Some phytonutrients act as antioxidants, protecting our cells from oxidative damage; others are anti-inflammatory and tame chemicals that would otherwise increase inflammation. They have a diverse set of health benefits for kids and adults alike, and one of their many notable benefits is supporting the growth of beneficial microbes.
Getting kids to eat a rainbow of foods and therefore consume plenty of phytonutrients is super important to raising a resilient child. However, research tells us that most kids are not getting enough variety, and 40% of fruit and veggie intake among Canadian kids comes from white potatoes and fruit juice – yikes!
I totally get it, although fruits are an easier sell, it’s not always easy getting little ones to eat veggies. My best advice is to prepare vegetables in a variety of ways and don’t give up too quickly. Try smoothies and soups – both are an easy (and delicious) way to incorporate different foods. If your child hates broccoli the first time they try it, try again in a few days. If they still don’t like it, prepare it a different way. The key is to provide your child with a variety of different plant foods so that they can develop an appreciation for a variety of tastes and textures.
In addition to providing a healthy array of colourful foods, fermented organic gut superfoods+ kids makes it easy for kids to eat the rainbow and provides an unmatched nutritional insurance policy for kids and teens. It has 21 organic and fermented superfoods plus a prebiotic to nourish gut health. Each superfood has been chosen for its high polyphenol content, making it ideal for supporting the microbiome. Just mix it into water or blend it in a smoothie to increase the consumption of phytonutrients and positively influence the abundance of healthy microbes in their gut!
3. Nourish the gut with probiotics
A diverse set of gut flora teaches the immune system to differentiate between friend and foe, and having the right set of gut microbes boosts the activity of immune cells in the gut. Probiotic bacteria, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG), L. reuteri and Saccharomyces boulardii, are some of the best studied strains for helping reduce the severity of infectious diarrhea caused by rotavirus – very common in children throughout cold and flu season. Microbes have also been found to be beneficial for reducing allergies and atopic eczema.
Probiotics are regarded as safe and are well tolerated by children. This is why I give my daughter advanced gut health probiotics kids, a multi-strain probiotic with seven research-proven strains chosen to promote a healthy gut in childhood. Plus, it comes in a super yummy chewable format, making it easy to give to kids. I also recommend giving kids probiotic foods such as sauerkraut and coconut kefir – both of which I give to my daughter regularly. We started feeding her sauerkraut early on, and although that may seem like a strange food for a young child, the younger you can introduce little ones to different tastes, the better. Kids generally love sour flavours, so don’t knock it till they try it!
4. Feed gut bacteria with prebiotics
Just as important as probiotics, are prebiotics. These are the non-digestible food components that benefit the microbiome by selectively stimulating the growth or activity of non-pathogenic bacteria in the colon. In simple terms, prebiotics are the food for your gut bacteria. Don’t get too hung up on what foods are prebiotic, instead, give your child a variety of plant foods to maximize their nutrition and prebiotic consumption. Some of our favourite prebiotic foods are raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. In the winter months, we make smoothies using organic frozen berries since the fresh ones aren’t available or affordable. I also make healthy cookies with rolled oats – another prebiotic food.
fermented organic gut superfoods+ kids has 4 grams of easy-to-digest prebiotic fibre, which is a great solution to ensure your child gets prebiotics on a daily basis.
5. Get outside in nature every day
Getting outside in green spaces and being surrounded by nature has many remarkable research-backed benefits for human health – especially for kids – and the best part is, it’s completely free! It has been shown to reduce stress, lower the risk of depression and anxiety and improve overall mental health. In fact, according to a paper from Aarhus University in Denmark, kids who grow up surrounded by nature have a 55% less risk of developing various mental disorders later in life. It even benefits children positively diagnosed with hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorder by helping them have better focus and attention.
The great outdoors also helps kids better withstand and recover from challenging situations. In fact, the University of Colorado discovered that schools with green schoolyards decreased children’s stress levels because they found “peace away from the stresses in the classroom and daily life.”
I am lucky enough to live near my city’s largest park, so we make a point of getting outside and taking advantage of this green space every day. In fact, children who play outside, whether that’s in the dirt or in a sandbox, have a greater microbial diversity. So on that note, let them eat dirt!
Raising resilient children is no small task, but it’s an important and incredibly rewarding one. As a parent, we have an amazing opportunity to make a positive impact on our children by nourishing their microbiome with phytonutrients, prebiotics and probiotics. What we do when they’re growing up will benefit them as an adult by helping them to be resilient as they age. They’ll thank us later 😉