It's hard to keep your perspective when the whole world about you is sneezing and sniffling. But as parents of sick children, you've got to. They depend on you.

Here's some reinforcements of the factual kind, just in time for the onslaught of flu and colds.The advice doesn't come with guarantees: As the old saying goes, colds that are treated go away within seven days, while those left alone take about a week.

It may, however, make the waiting a bit more pleasant.

The following tips are supplied by Ann Mullen, Lung Line nurse at National Jewish Center in Denver; Dr. John Quarles, Texas A&M University virologist; Dr. Louis Parrish, New York general practitioner, and Children magazine.

- Wash your hands twice a day or more to discard any viruses that come your way. Remind your children to do the same.

- Get a flu shot in the early fall. Keep your immune system healthy by eating right, dressing appropriately, getting enough sleep and avoiding stress.

- Know the difference between a cold and the flu. Colds arrive with sneezing, runny noses, sore throats, coughing and mild fever. Flus come on quickly, with high fever, headaches, chills, sweats, cough and muscle pain.

- Most strains of each cannot be treated with medication, but can turn into more serious bacterial infections. Those do respond to medicine.

- Although chills don't cause colds (viruses do), some people say they depress the immune system and allow cold viruses to take hold. That doesn't mean you have to keep children indoors. Fresh air is good for them, but they should be dressed appropriately.

- Encourage children to sneeze into tissues rather than into their hands. That's where germs collect and are passed on to new hosts.

- Teach children not to rub their eyes and noses during flu season, since viruses on their hands can enter any of the passages leading to the respiratory tract.

- Don't smoke or let your children be exposed to cigarette smoke. It damages the protective lining of the nose, throat and lungs.

- Instruct children in proper nose blowing. That means blowing gently through both nostrils rather than one at a time. Sharp blasts may actually force infectious material deeper into the ears or sinuses, causing infections there.

- Help them break the sniffling habit. Pin a packet of tissues to their clothes if you have to.

- Fill them with liquids, since a sick body can become a dehydrated one. If they resist, encourage them to drink a little every five minutes. Any and all liquids are fine, especially Popsicles (good for sore throats), crushed ice, liquid Jell-O, warm broth, weak tea, flat soda pop, chicken soup, and fresh fruit and vegetable juices.

- Keep the air moist in the house by turning down the thermostat to the high 60s.

- If you choose to run a humidifier (hot mist) or vaporizer (cool mist), be sure it is thoroughly cleaned once a week. If your child has a chronic respiratory condition, clean it once a day. Washing the bowl with detergent; rinse, adding two cups of white vinegar and enough water to keep it running for 30 minutes. Then rinse well again and run three more minutes with tap water. Whenever the water level is low, dump out the old water before adding the fresh. Distilled water is better, but tap water will do.

- Take advantage of your bathroom shower to create a steamy environment. Sometimes that's enough to stop a persistent coughing spell.

- Leave productive coughs alone, as they bring up mucus. For a dry, hacking cough, use a cough syrup with dextromethorphan.

- Ignore antihistamines. They're for allergies, not colds.

- Camphor, in ointment or other form, has no place in the home. A child who gets some in his mouth can convulse.

- Remember that fever is our friend. It shows the body is fighting the virus. Be concerned only if it rises too high or persists.

- Don't give aspirin to anyone under the age of 18 because of its association with Reye's Syndrome. Use acetaminophen, found in Tylenol or a similar medication.