From sore throats and congestion, to mysterious fevers and ear infections, to seasonal influenza, to vomiting and diarrhea, looking after a sick child is not fun, particularly when you’re sleep deprived and feeling under the weather yourself. While we would give anything to trade places with our little ones to help alleviate them from pain and suffering, the reality is that it plain old sucks when your kids are sick.
And since children don’t come with a manual and can’t always accurately describe the symptoms they are experiencing, it can be pretty nerve-wracking, not to mention exhausting when your little one brings illness after illness home throughout cold and flu season.
The good news is that you aren’t alone. Millions of moms have walked the walk before you, and the internet is filled with mom hacks to help you prevent sicknesses, shorten the length and severity of your child’s symptoms, keep sick kids comfortable and entertained, and maintain your sanity all at the same time, and we’ve pulled all of our best sick day tips and advice together just for you!
How to Prevent Sicknesses
Okay, let’s be honest here: as much as we want our kids to be healthy 24/7, the truth is that it’s just not going to happen. Nor do we want it to! While it can be pretty heartbreaking when your kids are sick, and you might spend October through June wishing you could send your little one to school wearing a hazmat suit, the reality is that our children need to be exposed to dirt and germs in order to develop a healthy immune system.
Now that’s not to say you can’t do certain things to help naturally prevent them from bringing home every illness known to mankind during cold and flu season, but it’s important not to get too carried away as too clean a home can actually do more damage than good. Make sense? Good.
Here are 6 simple things you can do to help prevent sicknesses!
Prioritize sleep. Sleep deprivation is linked to reduced immunity, so it’s important the entire family is getting a decent amount of shut-eye each evening. Make sure your children are getting enough physical activity throughout the day, remove electronic devices an hour before bedtime, establish a predictable sleep routine, and stick to the same bedtime every single day – even on weekends and holidays!
Maintain a healthy diet. A healthy diet is an important, yet often overlooked natural immune booster. Make sure your children are filling up on immune-boosting foods such as dark leafy greens, tofu, sweet potatoes, and yogurt. A good rule of thumb is to try and get them to eat a serving of 5 different colors of fruits and vegetables each day.
Focus on gut health. You’ve probably heard that 70% to 80% of our immune system is located in our gut, and that improving our gut flora through the consumption of probiotics can simultaneously improve our immune health. I always recommend speaking to a licensed naturopath to confirm the best brand and potency for your child, and talk more about probiotics and immunity HERE.
Teach proper hand hygiene. Remind your child to wash his or her hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, playing outside, touching animals (even household pets!), preparing food, and coming into contact with someone who is sick, and make it a habit for the whole family to wash their hands together before eating. Looking for fun activities you can do with your kids to teach them about germs and the importance of proper handwashing? CLICK HERE for some fabulous ideas!
Teach kids to sneeze and cough into their elbow. I realize this isn’t a new concept, but kids often need reminders to do this at the beginning of cold and flu season!
Remind kids not to touch their face. While many parents are good at reminding their children not to put their fingers in their mouths, that’s not the only way germs are spread, so be sure to teach your kids not to touch their eyes or nose when their hands are dirty as well.
How to Keep Sick Kids Comfortable
If you’re looking for natural ways to keep sick kids comfortable when they’re under the weather, these tips will certainly inspire you, but remember that I’m not a doctor and that these cold and flu remedies are not intended to replace proper medical care. I’ve included links to additional information to help you better understand what causes each type of illness list below, when you should worry, as well as additional creative ideas you might want to consider to keep your little one comfortable when he or she is feeling sick.
If your child has a fever…
- Keep him or her hydrated
- Serve frozen treats like popsicles to help him or her feel cooler while also soothing a sore throat and increasing your child’s liquid intake
- Apply cold wash cloths to your child’s forehead and the back of his or her neck to help bring his or her fever down
- Whip up a batch of chicken noodle soup to keep your child hydrated and nourished
- Make sure your child is getting enough sleep so his or her body can fight off whatever illness is causing the fever to occur
For more information about fever in children – what to look for, when to worry, and other natural fever reducers like cold sock therapy – CLICK HERE.
If your child has an ear infection…
- Hold a warm compress over the infected ear(s) to relieve pain and pressure
- Increase fluid intake (swallowing can help open the eustachian tubes and relieve discomfort)
- Make your own salt sock by filling a large white cotton sock with about 1 ½ cups of coarse sea salt, tying a knot to keep the salt in place, and warming it in a skillet. Make sure it isn’t too hot to the touch, and then hold it over your child’s infected ear for immediate pain relief
- Try essential oils. The calming effects of lavender oil combined with its ability to soothe pain and improve respiratory issues is a great place to start, and eucalyptus oil is another favorite as its anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce inflammation in the eustachian tubes while also helping to alleviate congestion. Tea tree oil also works due to its anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.
If your child has a sore throat…
- Have him or her gargle with salt water to reduce swelling and discomfort
- Add honey to warm water (or have your child lick it directly from a spoon!) for quick relief
- Use popsicles to reduce pain and increase hydration. Allowing your child a popsicle before meals is a great way to help numb the throat to make eating more tolerable
- Brew lemon water and/or chamomile tea as they both have antioxidant properties
If you need more creative – and delicious – ways to keep your child comfortable when a sore throat strikes, learn how liquid Jello and a bag of marshmallows can help, as well as when to seek medical care HERE.
If your child has a stomach bug…
- Reduce liquid intake as it can make vomiting and diarrhea worse. Start with one tablespoon of water or flat ginger ale and once that can be tolerated, slowly increase from there
- Use electrolyte solutions like Pedialyte to ward off dehydration
- Stick to the BRAT diet – bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast
- Alleviate stomach pain and spasms with a heating pad
- Reduce nausea with ginger ale, ginger tea, and/or acupressure Sea-Bands
For more tips on how to maintain your sanity when a stomach bug hits your family, including great household hacks to make clean-up easier, CLICK HERE.
How to Shorten the Severity and Duration of Sicknesses
While there are certain supplements you can take to help shorten the severity and duration of an illness, like echinacea, zinc, and vitamin C, I’m not really a fan of giving these to young children. I prefer to use natural methods wherever possible, and while there really aren’t any fast-acting cures to speed up the recovery process when sickness strikes, there are certain things we can do to (hopefully) ensure illnesses don’t get worse.
Get adequate rest. While I’m not one to let my child veg out in front of the TV all day, sick days are definitely an exception. It takes a surprising amount of strength and energy to fight off illnesses and infections, and one of the best things you can do when your little one is sick is to encourage him or her to get as much rest as possible throughout the day and enforce an earlier bedtime.
Keep your child home from school and limit physical activity. Like many moms I know, I am usually pretty eager for my child to go back to school as soon as possible after an illness, but I’ve learned the hard way that pushing her too soon can cause setbacks. An extra day (or 2) at home can make a huge difference in shortening the duration of sicknesses, so don’t be too quick to send your little ones back to school until they’re 100% on the mend.
Hydration! Hydration! Hydration! Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably already know that H2O is the answer to most of our problems. LOL. Increasing your child’s water intake can help reduce fevers, thin out mucus and congestion, and ward off headaches, so make sure he or she always has a water bottle handy!
Cook up a batch of chicken soup. While it’s not 100% clear why chicken noodle soup helps to reduce the duration of illnesses and make us feel better sooner, we know it can help keep mucous membranes moist and ward off irritation in our throats while also keeping us hydrated and eating. It’s a win-win!
Use over-the-counter medications. While I try to avoid OTC meds if I can, I also don’t like to see my child suffer, and if she’s feeling miserable due to a fever or feeling achy due to a seasonal flu, I’m not afraid to offer her relief with Tylenol or Advil.
How to Clean Up After Sick Kids to Prevent Germs from Spreading
While it’s not always possible to avoid the spread of germs when your kids are sick, there are certain precautions you can take to help reduce the likelihood that the entire family will catch whatever illness your little one has.
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water
- Quarantine sick kids to their bedrooms
- Keep a trash can or plastic bag handy for dirty tissues so they aren’t left on tabletops and other places where germs can spread
- Wear surgical gloves and a mask when caring for someone who is sick with the stomach flu
- Put the toilet seat lid down when flushing vomit and/or diarrhea to prevent bacteria from spraying into the air
- Clean contaminated surfaces with a bleach-based cleaner like Clorox, paying extra attention to things like toilet flushers, the immediate area around the toilet, faucets, door handles, and any other surface you may not typically clean, as these are likely loaded with bacteria-laden germs
- Wash soiled clothing and linens in hot water
- Keep toothbrushes separate, never share toothpaste, and change both after recovering from an illness
How to Remain Sane When Your Kids Are Home Sick
Whether you’re currently drowning in sickness, or want some ideas to keep in your back pocket the next time your little ones are home from school with a cold, fever, sore throat, or a stomach bug, here are some things you can do to help maintain your sanity.
Let go of rules. Allow more TV and iPad time, serve favorite foods for snacks and at mealtimes, relax on things that cause power struggles (baths/showers, toothbrushing, homework, etc.), indulge your kids more, and remember to pick your battles when your little one is sick.
Organize sick day activities. When your child is in that in-between stage where he or she isn’t sick enough to lie on the couch or in bed all day but isn’t quite well enough to go back to school, take a few minutes in the morning to write up a work plan to add a bit of structure to your day. This can be a mix of activities you can do together as well as some independent work (see below for some ideas!), and you can sprinkle TV and iPad in between to help keep your child motivated while also allowing you a bit of breathing room.
Order groceries online. I recently discovered Instacart and feel so much better knowing I can order groceries for delivery within an hour if/when I need to. It makes me feel a lot less desperate when my little one is too sick to leave the house, we’re running low on food, and my husband is away on business. Take the time TODAY to find a food delivery service near you, create an account, and familiarize yourself with the platform so you’re prepared when sickness strikes!
Find a drugstore that delivers. Nothing sucks more than being home with a feverish and/or puking child than not having the meds you need on hand to help him or her feel better. If you’re lucky enough to live close to a drugstore that delivers, get yourself set-up and test it out now so you aren’t scrambling when you need the service most.
Take an Uber. Last year, I finally signed up with Uber. I had never used their services before (I’m old), but when my daughter was vomiting, and I needed to get her to her doctor on my own last fall, I decided to give it a try and I’m SO glad I did. Uber, Lyft, taxis, etc. take the hassle and worry out of getting your child medical help when he or she is too sick to be left alone, you’re too frazzled to drive, or both.
Get a workout in. I have suffered from anxiety since I was 9 and grabbing 30-45 minutes of gym time each day is my therapy. And for every day I can’t make it to the gym, my anxiety worsens, so I bought some inexpensive weights and found some good at-home workouts I can do in our living room when I’m house-bound, and while it’s not perfect, it gives me back a sense of control.
Schedule some TLC. If you know you’re going to be stuck inside for a long time with a sick child, plan a little treat for yourself so you have something to look forward to when everyone is feeling better. This can be as simple as a coffee date with a friend, or as indulgent as a day at the spa. The point is to book it, not feel guilty about it, and follow through. And while you are cooped up at home, you can always do things throughout the day to help yourself feel more relaxed. Give yourself a mani/pedi, try a face mask, experiment with some new hairstyles, and spend lots of time on social media so you feel connected to the world around you!
45 Sick Day Activities
One of the hardest parts about kids and sick days is that in-between period in which your child isn’t well enough to go to school, but isn’t sick enough to lie on the couch and watch TV. This can be an especially challenging time with high energy kids who are constantly moving, and I always recommend having a few activities on hand to help curb boredom while still allowing your child’s body to rest. Here are 45 of my favorite sick day activities for kids!
One of the things I like to be conscious of when it comes to sick day activities is choosing materials that can be disposed of, or that can be easily washed to avoid the spread of germs to other family members (or reinfection in the case of pink eye, strep throat, norovirus, etc.). Lego is a great option as there are so many fun things you can do with it, and once you’re done, you can put it all in a mesh bag and throw it into the washing machine or dishwasher to sanitize it. BOOM! I bet I just blew your mind! Here are 10 lego activities your little ones will love.
- Simple LEGO Slime (Lemon Lime Adventures)
- Lego Zip Line STEM Project for Kids (Little Bins for Little Hands)
- Lego Marble Run (Octavia and Vicky)
- Bridge Building Challenge (Frugal Fun for Boys)
- How to Build a Lego Candy Dispenser (Frugal Fun for Boys)
- ABC Lego Cards (Wildfire Ramblings)
- DIY Portable LEGO Kit with 24 Free Printable Activity Cards (Fun at Home with Kids)
- Lego Bingo (Big D & Me)
- Feed the LEGO Monsters: A Sorting and Building Game for Kids (Toddler Approved)
- DIY Lego Hangman (Pink and Green Mama)
Playdoh is another one of my favorite activities for sick days because it’s relatively inexpensive to buy, making me feel less guilty if I throw a few pots away post-sickness. There are also tons of great DIY recipes you can try using ingredients you probably have lying around in your pantry, and you can sanitize playdoh tools in the same way you can sanitize lego (see above). The internet is also filled with TONS of great playdoh activities for kids of all ages, and I’ve shared some of my favorites below.
- Fill In The Blank Spelling (No Time for Flash Cards)
- Letter Matching (No time for Flash Cards)
- Play Doh Mats (Meraki Lane)
- Learning to Add with Play Doh (Kids Activities Blog)
- Monster Playdoh Mats (picklebums)
- ABC Playdoh Mats (1 + 1 + 1 = 1)
- Playdoh Bug Fossils (No Time for Flash Cards)
- Playdoh Nature Walk (How Wee Learn)
- Playdoh Kebobs (No Time for Flash Cards)
- Playdoh Aliens (Rainy Dad Mum)
Science experiments for kids
Oh, how I love a good science experiment! They offer the perfect way to get a child’s mind off of how awful they are feeling, and since you tend to toss the ingredients away once you’re done, you don’t have to perform any post-clean-up sanitation. Check out these simple science activities for kids!
- Dissolve the “M” Off an M&M (Coffee Cups and Crayons)
- Dancing Worms (Playdough to Plato)
- Magic Milk Science Experiment (Laughing Kids Learn)
- Hopping Corn Science Activity (One Time Through)
- Snow Storm in a Jar (Growing a Jeweled Rose)
- Fireworks in a Glass (Paging Fun Mums!)
- Ocean in a Bottle (Happy Hooligans)
- Walking Water Science Experiment for Kids (Coffee Cups and Crayons)
- A Multi-Sensory Experiment with Jell-O & Vinegar (Fun-A-Day)
- How Clouds Make Rain (The Happy Housewife)
Shaving cream activities
If your child enjoys sensory play, shaving cream is a great way to battle boredom, and if you have menthol-scented shaving cream handy, it may help with mild congestion. You can spray a bunch on a cookie sheet and let younger kids have at it, or you can give some of these ideas a try.
- Rainbow Writing with Shaving Cream (Blog Me Mom)
- Shaving Cream Car Wash (Happy Hooligans)
- Sensory Play with Shaving Cream and Mirrors (Danya Banya)
- Sensory Rainbow With Straws (Mess for Less)
- Sensory Snow & Erupting Snow (Growing a Jeweled Rose)
- Sensory Sight Words (Mess for Less)
- Cotton Candy Puffy Paint (Crafty Morning)
- Alphabet Squish (I Can Teach my Child)
- Crackle Foam Sensory Play (Growing a Jeweled Rose)
- Shaving Cream Bathtub Paint (Momdot)
While I’m not a fan of throwing kids in the bath when they have a fever (a bath can temporarily increase your child’s body temperature, making a fever worse), and I prefer to avoid them when my daughter has diarrhea and/or is vomiting (!!!!), a soak in the tub with some of your child’s favorite bath toys can certainly help improve a sick child’s mood. And if your little one is at that stage where he or she is almost ready to go back to school, some of these bath activities may be just what the doctor ordered!
- Lego Bath (Busy Toddler)
- DIY Bathtub Paints (Raining Hot Coupons)
- DIY Bathtub Shapes (I Can Teach My Child)
- Pool Noodle Bath Activity (Mommy Evolution)
- Glow-in-the-Dark Bath Paint (Raining Hot Coupons)
WHEW! That was A LOT of information, but I hope the tips and ideas in this post inspire you and help you feel more in control when your kids are sick! Remember not to get too hung up on keeping your kids germ-free as you want them to develop a strong immune system, and instead focus on finding ways to keep them comfortable while maintaining your sanity on sick days. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and always have activities up your sleeve to ward of boredom.
Here’s to a happy and healthy cold and flu season!
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