Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Stay home to avoid viruses?

Two local doctors offer advice about playing through those dreaded, endless cold seasons

It’s the time of year that Seattle parents of small children dread.

Outside, the rain never seems to stop and the park is reduced to a mess of brown sticks and squishy grass. Inside, the kids are bouncing off the walls, the sofa, the beds, the kitchen table and the dog.

That indoor play place at the fast-food joint or the mall looks like a godsend, but there’s the worry: Am I exposing my kids to a germ stew and perhaps a nasty cold?

Two local doctors — who are also moms — say “fear not.” You can save your sanity and take the kids to indoor play, but follow some common-sense precautions.

“Play places are great in this rainy town,” said Dr. Tamara Cullen Evans, a naturopathic physician in Fremont and an adjunct instructor at Bastyr University. 

Cullen Evans recommends that children wash their face and hands with warm water and soap before AND after playing in a crowded space. That way you’re decreasing your child’s exposure to germs and the risk of inflicting your child’s germs on others. And it’s important that children wash their face, because they touch them so often.

While hand sanitizer is OK in a pinch, soap and water work well and won’t dry out skin. Choose a soap that is not antibacterial. It works no better than regular soap and can contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Encourage your kids not to put things in their mouths and to use a tissue on runny noses. Even a sleeve is better than a hand, Cullen Evans said, and have your child cough into his or her elbow.

Play places are fine, but Dr. Wendy Haas, a pediatrician at Group Health’s Bellevue Medical Center, said to fish the boots and raincoat out of the closet and take the kids to the park for a stomp through that mushy grass.

“Take the towel and clean off the slide,” Haas said. “Keep them bundled. We’re the ones who don’t want to be outside, not them.”

Children’s museums and a walk around the zoo are a good option, too. Storytime at the library is free.

Many of those play places are wiped down at least once a day.

“They are probably cleaner than my house,” Haas said. “Of course, it’s also a different level of use. In my house I don’t have 100 children jumping around and drooling, but these places are usually maintained.”

Haas said that getting colds helps children boost their immune systems. However, she advises against purposefully exposing children to anything. The old-fashioned notion that you should expose your children to chicken pox is a bad one, she said. Instead, get your children immunized.

She also doesn’t recommend taking a newborn under 6 months old somewhere they might be exposed to a lot of germs.

“The reality with children is we want to be careful with them, but we also don’t want to stifle them,” Haas said. “That’s a tough thing to do in Seattle in winter.”