Dr. Rachael Ross from the hit TV show The Doctors explains how to strengthen kids’ immune systems.

My children bring home new illnesses at the start of each school year. How can I better protect my family?

Preventing illnesses starts with a healthy immune system. Parents need to begin boosting their children’s, and their own, immune systems in the weeks leading up to the new school year.

Start by ensuring your family’s sleep pattern is well adjusted. The month before class starts, begin shifting the kids’ bedtimes in 30-minute increments, helping them to get to bed sooner without too abrupt of a change. Kids and adolescents need about 10 hours of sleep each night.

Eating a nutritious diet is also key to building a healthy immune system and fending off viruses. Stock your pantry with healthy, unprocessed food, and send the family off each morning with a balanced breakfast that includes foods high in protein and low in sugar.

Stress also has a negative effect on the immune system. College-age students and adults need to be exercising regularly to help reduce stress — work and tests can be stressful, and friends and relationships can be stressful. Strive to move daily. If possible, elevate your heart rate and break a sweat to help counteract and balance stress.

One thing that does not get discussed enough is how to prevent the entire family from getting sick when one person becomes ill. Stopping the cold or flu from infecting other family members takes organization and explanation from parents. You certainly do not want your sick child to feel exiled, but it takes “covert quarantining” from mom and dad. Explain to your children why it’s important they be separated and then tend to the needs of the patient in a designated space that can be quickly and efficiently sanitized.

When it comes to sanitizing, use old-fashioned soap and water or bleach. Disinfecting does not need to be complicated or fancy. Stick to the old adage, “simple is best.” While hand sanitizer can be useful, there is no substitute for a good hand- washing with soap and water to kill the cold and flu viruses. The whole family needs to be washing their hands frequently.

If your child is coming home with chronic colds, there may be some other factor causing the symptoms. Speak to a physician about allergy testing, or even the possibility of supplementing more vitamin D into your child’s diet.

We know how a cold spreads — it’s not from walking outside with wet hair or not wearing the right coat — it’s because our respiratory tracts have been exposed to a virus. Be diligent in making good decisions to keep your family’s immune systems functioning at their peak.

Tweet @TheDoctors and let Dr. Ross know you enjoyed her #SamsClubMag Ask The Doctors feature article.

Dr. Rachael Ross is a co-host on the award- winning, syndicated series The Doctors, a practicing board-certified family medicine physician and a sexologist. She is a pioneer of groundbreaking discussions about relationships, sex, health, abstinence, HIV/AIDS prevention and comprehensive sex education for teenagers across the U.S.