As the parent of two school-aged kids, I’m well practiced in battling the incessant stream of viral and bacterial invaders these kids bring home. At any given time, you can walk into a classroom and it seems at least a quarter of the kids have a runny nose or cough. So we use antibacterial goods, and the bugs get stronger (and that doesn’t do anything for viruses). Then we get the family flu shots (which is a very funny concept given the rate of viral mutation) and everyone still gets sick.

So how do we naturally prevent colds in kids?

Strengthen your child’s immune system. In Ayurveda lowered immunity is a state of vata imbalance. So much of the practices in boosting immunity have to do with vata reduction.  Here are my top 10, in no particular order.

1. Humidify

I use a basic humidifier at night in the kids’ bedroom to help keep their upper respiratory tract nice and moist, which is how it likes to be. This helps their membranes do their natural protective job, and keeps them from having too many dry boogers that they go digging for with dirty little fingers (reduced exposure).  Sometimes I’ll put a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil (see more below), or a piece of camphor in the water. Just clean out the humidifier every few days with a rinse of white vinegar.

2. Sleep

When we are asleep is the time the body systems regenerate, including the immune system. Even though we have a decent “bedtime” for the kids, it’s not uncommon for the little critters to stay up late, or resist a nap. When I see that they are with the first signs of a cold, I really try to curb my own vata to be able to prioritize sleep for the kids (and myself).

3. Natural saline

Personally, I like Little Tummies brand saline as it is without any strange additives. Although the aerosol spray type looks cool, they usually have more preservatives and propellants in them, so go for the simple squeeze bottle. The saline helps to break down congestion, and moisten the mucus membranes. Basically, this is the kid version of the neti pot.

4. Nose oil (Nasya)

Right after the saline ritual, I’ll put some oil in their nostrils with my clean pinky finger, or a Q-tip. I also really like the “Baby Vicks” that has lavender and aloe in it. Again, this helps them be able to breathe and not feel like they need to pick their nose.

5. Herbal honey

I cannot emphasize enough the power of this little concoction. There are several types of herbal honey you can make, and most all are wonderful. Honey is naturally antimicrobial, breaks down mucous, expectorant (brings mucous up out of the lungs), soothes the throat and reduces vata. When you make an herbal honey, use herbs that are beneficial for immunity, like echinacea or black pepper.

My mix is 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic and 1-2 teaspoons of sitopaladi (a very yummy decongestant) in about 1/2 cup raw honey. I give the kids a spoon of this honey every night before bed.

6. Digestive spices

The strength of your immunity is directly correlated with the strength of your digestion. So, if you keep the digestive system strong and healthy, good immunity follows. With vata imbalance, appetite wanes and digestive capacity is reduced. You can balance this by increasing digestive spices in your cooking, as all culinary spices are digestive aids. I find nutmeg and cinnamon easy to incorporate in breakfast foods, and cumin and ginger easy to hide in most dinner items.

My little ones drink chai, so I put spices in their chai. Any spice in any food will work, and black pepper is another easy one to add more of.  All of the warming digestive spices are antimicrobial and help to break up mucous as well.

7. Ear oil

Dr. Doulliard recommends a garlic sesame oil in the ears at bedtime. I find this leaks out and my kids end up reeking of garlic in their hair and necks. So personally, I use a vata reducing nasya oil which smells delightful and does the trick. I warm the bottle in a bottle warmer I still have from the bottle days and put 1-2 drops in each ear a few times a week. The ear canals are part of the upper respiratory system and more vata balancing is great to strengthen the body here where colds begin.

8. Warm food

Warm moist food supports healthy digestion, and is easiest to digest during vata imbalance. For example, favor warm cereals and soft egg scrambles for breakfast over dry toast or cold cereal. More soups, and warm-moist-cooked-spiced foods for dinners are a great idea during the fall, or anytime a cold has set it, for the whole family.

9. Aromatherapy

This is easy and probably my favorite part of the whole immune boosting regimen. My favorite vata reducing essential oils are eucalyptus, lavender, vetiver, and frankincense. I put these in the kids’ baths, in little oil burners around the house, and as aforementioned in their humidifiers.

10. Healing music

Here’s one that we don’t think of often, but is a powerful way to reduce vata. We’ve all experienced the soothing power of natural soundscapes and healing music. Mantra chanting is also nice–everyone feels grounded with the eternal om track. Sound is one of our most powerful sensory inputs, and having grounding music playing during bedtime, or whenever is a lovely way to boost immunity. I like the “yoga” channel on Pandora.