Helping Your College Student Stay Healthy Living in the Dorm

College life, for resident students, is communal life.  Students live together in apartments or dorms and share their music, their ideas, their belongings, their clothes, and their germs.  It is a truth of college life that many students begin to get sick just a few weeks into the semester.  They are tired, may not be eating right, and they have been living together and exposing each other to their germs.

You will not be able to prevent your student from getting sick, just as you couldn’t prevent it when he started pre-school or kindergarten.  You can, however, send him to school with a first aid kit, a comfort pack for when illness does strike, and some reminders of ways to try to fend off some illness or shorten the duration of the inevitable.

Remember that your student may roll her eyes at your suggestions, or may dismiss your reminders, but then she may actually act upon them later.  Here are a few of the common sense reminders to pass on to your student before she begins her life in the dorm.

  • Wash your hands.  It’s simple, and we’ve heard it all of our lives.  It was especially reinforced during the flu seasons of the past few years.  Washing your hands well and often is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs. (Give him a jar of hand sanitizer to keep in his room.)
  • Don’t leave your toothbrush lying around in shared bathrooms.  Take it, and any cup that you use, back to your room.  They can pick up unwanted germs just being in the bathroom.
  • Don’t share towels, soap, cups, pillows.
  • Wear shower shoes too, from, and in the shower and bathroom.
  • Keep your room (relatively) clean.  Throw out leftover food, wash dirty dishes, launder sheets and towels.  Eliminate potential germ breeding grounds.
  • Avoid sick people.  It’s a wonderful thing to be sympathetic when friends are sick, and you can do nice things for them.  Offer to bring a meal from the dining hall, make some soup, rent a movie.  But keep your distance for a while.  Don’t invite them to hang out in your room.
  • Occasionally disinfect items that may be handled often and by many people.  Use disinfectant spray on doorknobs, light switches, remotes, computer keyboard, and mouse.
  • Go to the health center for treatment if you are sick.  Sometimes dealing with an illness early will prevent complications later on.
  • Take a break if you are sick.  Don’t try to keep going at your usual pace.  Pamper and indulge yourself a bit.  Stay in and rest.  If you’re able, do try to get to class, but then take it easy.  Try to minimize your contact with others.
  • Get sleep.  Students who are overtired and sleep deprived (and what student isn’t overtired and sleep deprived) are more apt to get sick.  Try to get sleep, especially when others around you may be getting sick.
  • Make some healthy food choices.  Yes, there will be the late night pizza or hamburgers, and often less than ideal choices in the dining hall.  But try to think about some vitamins and healthy foods, and be sure to drink enough water.
  • Get exercise.  Regular exercise can help build a healthy immune system.

One of the difficult moments of being a college parent may come when you know that your student is sick and you are not there – to comfort, give advice, or provide the chicken soup.  You can definitely send a card, send a care package, and provide a sympathetic ear.  If you’ve reminded your student of some of the suggestions above, you’ll at least know that you’ve done all that you can do.