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Six Things To Do When Your Child Is Home Sick

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If you're new to parenting or an expert by now, you dread a sick day. No, not a day when you are so ill, you can barely get out of bed. Instead, this kind of sick day puts an agonizing pause on life. Agonizing because it is your child who is suffering.

It can begin in the middle of the night. You are sleeping peacefully, and you jerk awake to the sound of your child whimpering, calling out, "Mommy!" It can be as mild as a sore throat with a stuffy nose or as harsh as an hour-long session of projectile body fluids.

You comfort your child, reassure them, and clean up the mess, all while half-asleep, barefoot, and thoroughly stressed out. Finally, hopefully, your child stops crying and spewing and can get back to sleep. You try your best to fall asleep as soon as possible after the event because you already know you are in for a sick day that begins in a few hours.

As much as you'd like to spring into super-parent mode by the following day, you are exhausted physically and mentally, physically from the lack of sleep, mentally from the realization that today will not be a school day for your child and may not be a productive workday for yourself. Aside from a change in routine, you are the primary source of round-the-clock care for a very miserable-feeling child.

Here is a helpful to-do list of how to handle your first or 50th sick day with your child:

1.       First, decide who stays home with your sick child.

If you live in a home with a spouse or adult relative, you should have already had the conversation deciding who will stay home with your sick child when needed. It may be a good idea to trade off this duty occasionally to reduce resentment or burnout among family members.

Keep in mind that caring for a sick child can be more demanding and potentially dangerous if your child’s illness progresses. In addition, this task is not the same as babysitting, so it is better to have a responsible adult in charge rather than an older child or teen.

Make use of all available technology, such as cell phones, in-home cameras, or online messaging, so you can stay in contact with whoever is home with your child. A check-in can help in potential emergencies, but it can also help the caregiver feel less overwhelmed during a very trying day.


2.       Know when to take your child to see a doctor.

Expert parents know the rules of thumb for when to go to the doctor. For example, high fevers that won't go down, difficulty swallowing or keeping food or liquids down, rash, extreme lethargy, or unresponsiveness warrant a doctor or E.R. visit. But many parents will also agree that if something does not feel right, trust your gut, and take your child to the doctor.

3.       Call the school to let them know your child will be absent and why.

All states in the U.S. have attendance laws for school-aged children to ensure kids do not miss too much school. Truancy can land parents in court, but absences due to illness can be excused. Know your district and school policy regarding excused absences due to illness. Some schools may require a doctor’s note or negative test results to return to school.

4.       Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids.

Medical professionals agree that fluids are suitable for colds, flu, stomach bug, and general health. Make sure your child is getting enough hydration throughout the day. Wake them for a cup of water or juice. Interrupt their T.V. watching with an electrolyte ice pop or a cup of gelatin. Lunchtime calls for chicken noodle soup, which can help during cold and flu season.

5.       Get yourself to work (if you can).

Not everyone has unlimited paid time off from work. It is prevalent in the U.S. to have a limited amount of monthly sick days. With inflation rates, you might be unable to take an unpaid day off from work. To safeguard that necessary time, check in with your workplace to see if you can work virtually from home as you care for your child. Alternatively, you can take this time to work on your side gig.

If you take time off from work and have the energy, this is an excellent time to catch up on your usual evening time household duties. If you usually put in a load of laundry, pay your bills, or make a grocery order after work hours, do that now. If you’ve been meaning to check the smoke detector batteries, replace your home air filter, or water your spider plant, take care of it now.

6.       Enjoy your day.

This may be the most challenging item on our list. How can we enjoy a time when our children are feeling terrible and we are feeling tired and stressed out? First, remind yourself that this is temporary. We all get sick from time to time, and then we get better. During those times when our body needs a pause from work, school, and routine, we should make the best of our resting time. You don’t have to work or care for the home; you can be in the moment with your child.

Binge-watch your favorite shows while your child sleeps. Then, you can share your favorite childhood shows with them while they're awake. Let your child teach you how to play their favorite video games. Talk about vacation plans or birthday wishes. Tell them how it was when you had chicken pox. Make crafts, paint a picture, or fold paper airplanes. Look at old photo albums, tell stories, or just cuddle with the family pet.

Cold and flu seasons are generally in the winter months of the United States. But if you are a parent of a child attending daycare or school, you know there is no off-season for sickness, and it can hit any time—day or night.

The hope is that your child will stay healthy. Unfortunately, the reality is that children are just like us—sometimes healthy and sometimes not. Be prepared and make the most of your child’s unfortunate time.

Edited by Niko Balkaran.


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