Are the kids sick again? Here’s a cheat sheet on caring for a sick child to help you remember what to do.
It happens out of the blue. I’ll have my next day planned with activities to do with the kids, when… bam! One of them wakes up with a fever, vomit, or diarrhea.
And no matter how often I’ve gone through this, each time it does, my mind goes blank. I vaguely recall the best practices I vowed to remember should the kids get sick again. I’ll forget what food I should offer or the remedies we have on hand.
And that’s just with the kids themselves. We also have to deal with cleaning up the messes and running out of sanitizing wipes or quarters to wash their soiled sheets. No wonder sick days are a hassle.
A cheat sheet on caring for a sick child
If you can relate, read on. I made a cheat sheet we can all benefit from the next time the kids are sick. I’ve been using this list to run through the tasks I need to cover, making sure I don’t leave anything out. I wrote this just as much for myself as for you to refer to when that inevitable day happens.
The cheat sheet includes a summary of the tips found in this article, plus a blank template to fill with your own go-to remedies. Then, I also include a printable dosage tracker to note what medicines you give your child. Download the cheat sheet below:
1. Monitor your child’s temperature
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A fever usually indicates the body’s attempts to fight off an infection or sickness and should always be monitored. Even if you think the temperature is low, it’s a good idea to keep track of how it progresses during the day and night.
Then, find out from your doctor when she recommends you bring your child in for a fever. This depends on your child’s age and other symptoms he may have, so your doctor will know best when it’s time to bring him in. For instance, a low-grade fever for a newborn can be more alarming than it is for a five-year-old.
I usually use a standard thermometer that I stick under my child’s underarms. I admit, taking their temperature this way requires a lot of patience, as it can take a while for the reading to appear.
If this is an issue for you, another temperature monitor you can check out is TempTraq. I’ve used this as well, and it’s a digital patch your child wears for up to 24 hours that can track his temperature constantly. This offers a pretty accurate reading without having to deal with a squirmy child.
2. Offer appropriate medicines and remedies
I often hold out on medicine as long as possible, but sometimes it’s necessary. Depending on your child’s sickness, consider offering the following remedies:
- Tylenol to reduce fever and pain. Tylenol doesn’t “cure” your child of a fever—it only reduces it so he can feel more comfortable. If the fever is still trying to fight something off, it’ll likely return once the Tylenol wears off. But sometimes you need it just to help him feel more rested or have less pain.
- Cough medicine or honey for coughing. My kids’ pediatrician doesn’t prescribe cough or cold medicine, as it hasn’t been proven to work consistently. That said, my kids feel better when the syrup coats their throats, so the one I give my kids is Hyland’s Cough and Cold. I’ve also had much success giving my kids a spoonful of honey. (I only offered honey once they were a year or older, as honey isn’t safe for infants.)
- Vicks VapoRub for congestion. Before my kids napped or slept, I’d rub Vicks VapoRub on their chests and backs to help with congestion. For kids two and under, there’s also a Vicks BabyRub version.
- A humidifier for stuffed noses. Keep a humidifier handy when your child has trouble breathing or has a dry nose. Humidifiers can make a room super moist, so leave a window or door open to avoid mildew, get one with an automatic timer, or turn it off before you head to bed.
Regardless of which medicines or remedies you offer, track how much you give and how often. Don’t rely on memory as it’s too easy to forget. Plus, an official tracking system will avoid mix ups among adults, whether with your partner or caregiver.
With your cheat sheet, you’ll also get a printable tracker for medicines! Get it when you download the cheat sheet:
3. Sanitize your home
The stomach flu travels fast. Just a few holidays ago, each member of my family caught and passed it on to one another over the span of a few days. It was not pretty.
I learned that the easiest ways to avoid spreading germs is to sanitize all the areas that may have been infected immediately. The less germs, the less contamination for other family members. Generally this means:
- Using sanitizing wipes to clean toilets, counter tops and bathroom floors. I get a bulk pack of Clorox Wipes from Costco and keep these in our home.
- Spraying the carpet to clean any soiled areas. My husband and I swear by Folex.
- Washing the bathtub, especially if you bathed your soiled child after he got messy. I love Mrs. Meyers powder cleaner.
- Washing their soiled clothes, sheets, blankets, pillows, pillowcases and stuffed animals right away.
- Wiping up after any sneezes, coughs or spit up.
4. Wash your hands often
As much as we tell ourselves we don’t touch our noses or eyes or mouth, you know we do. The best way to avoid spreading germs then is to keep your hands clean.
Each time you clean after your child or scrub down a part of your house, wash your hands thoroughly. Another option is to stock up on hand sanitizer wipes and keep these around the house where a sink isn’t nearby. Better to at least sanitize your hands for those times you don’t feel inclined to head to the nearest sink.
5. Keep your child comfortable
When you’re the person who’s not sick, it’s easy to overlook how terrible it feels to be sick. It didn’t dawn on me for the longest time that the stomach flu made my kids feel nauseous, or that they felt extra groggy because of a cold. Only until I ended up falling sick did I realize how terrible my kids must’ve felt.
So keep your child comfortable. This might mean carrying him around slowly instead of swiveling left and right. He might feel nauseous and can feel dizzy with how quickly you move. Imagine your first trimester and how nauseous you felt—that’s how your child feels right now.
You might also want to keep him in simple clothes. Not only will it be a pain to wash complicated, fancy clothes, he’ll also feel more comfortable. Think stretch pants with no tight elastics, or regular t-shirts over buttoned ones.
6. Give water depending on his ailments
Stomach flu: The biggest risk with vomiting and diarrhea is dehydration. That said, it also doesn’t mean you should offer your child cup after cup of water. I made this mistake, which only led to my child vomiting even more water. (See what else helped my kids when they had the stomach flu.)
Instead, for stomach bugs, offer sips of water throughout the day. You want to offer just enough water to keep him from dehydrating, but in an amount small enough that his body keeps it down.
Cough and cold: If your child has a cold and isn’t vomiting or has diarrhea, then offer plenty of water. Just as with adults, the best remedies for a common cold is plenty of rest and water.
I found the best way to encourage my kids to drink water is by allowing them to carry a sippy cup throughout the day. They were more willing to drink out of it—and frequently too—than a regular water cup.
You may even want to offer a sippy cup of water at night. If your child is old enough to reach for a sippy cup, he could drink it at night when he has a dry throat or a coughing fit. Even if he doesn’t reach for it himself, having it near his bed gives you quick access to offer it yourself.
7. Don’t give a lot of food (and offer blank ones)
I always forget that my sick kids are in no mood to eat, and end up offering them the same meals I made for myself. And I wonder why they keep vomiting!
Instead, I learned to offer bland food, and to do so in small amounts throughout the day. Just like with water, small amounts of bland food is more likely to stay in the body than giving three big meals and snacks.
If your child has diarrhea, you can also offer the BRAT diet, which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. These foods are supposed to help stop diarrhea and loose bowel movements.
Other bland foods you can offer include crackers, oatmeal, yogurt and broth.
8. Encourage your child to nap
As with water, rest is the best remedy your child needs right now. It can be tough getting kids to take a nap, especially if they’ve already outgrown them. Still, your child will likely feel tired, so make it conducive to take naps.
For instance, if your child still naps and happens to take a long one, let him. His body needs as much sleep as possible. If you notice he’s looking listless, invite him to your bed and set up an impromptu nap area. My kids have fallen asleep on my bed after snuggling together.
Items to have on hand
One of the reasons sick days can be such a hassle is because we’re unprepared. Just recently, I realized we didn’t have medicine, and that we were running low on santizing wipes. Keeping your home well-stocked before sickness strikes makes handling sick kids much easier.
Here’s what I recommend you keep on hand:
- A thermometer
- Cough medicine
- Vicks VapoRub
- Benadryl (for allergies)
- Sanitizing wipes
- Household cleaning supplies
- Laundry detergent and quarters (if you don’t have your own washer and dryer)
- Tissue paper
- Extra sets of bedding and pillows
- Hand sanitizers
Whew! We covered a lot, and unfortunately, it’s all too easy to forget. That’s why I wrote this article and created a quick sheet as a reference guide for when it happens again.
And the best way for it not to is to take action before anyone falls sick. That’s why a cheat sheet like this can be so useful printed and tacked on the refrigerator or clipped to your binder.
Because it’ll happen—the kids will get sick, even on the days when you didn’t plan for it at all. But at least now you’ll be better prepared and know exactly what to do.
Get more tips:
- 9 Ways to Keep Kids from Getting Sick at School
- How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables
- Help Your Child with Stomach Flu with These 6 Best Practices
Tell me in the comments: What’s the hardest part about caring for sick kids?