Tips for Taking Care of a Sick Preschooler

Cold and flu season is approaching, and sometimes preschoolers come home sick, despite your best efforts. Here are some tips for taking care of your sick preschooler while remaining healthy yourself.

Understand the difference between a cold and the flu

Sometimes a cold and the flu can have similar symptoms. However, the common cold is not as serious as the flu, and often doesn’t require a visit to the doctor. If your child exhibits any of these symptoms, they may have the flu:

  • A sudden fever
  • Body aches, which may be severe
  • Chills and shakes
  • Headache
  • A dry cough and a sore throat
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Loss of appetite

Upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting are also possible. If your child’s fever lasts more than three or four days, they are having trouble breathing, a cough that won’t go away or gets worse, or ear pain, you may want to call their doctor. Stanford Children’s Health has more information about how to tell if your child’s illness could be something more serious.

Let your child rest

Rest is essential for helping your child’s body fight viruses. Encourage sleep by creating a quiet and comfortable environment. Depending on your child’s illness, a humidifier may help them to relax. Even when your child is awake, they should be resting as much as possible. Set up a bed on the couch and give your child a calming activity to work on, such as reading or coloring. Reduce screen time as much as possible, as they may get too engrossed in what they’re watching and ignore their body’s natural cues to rest. Some parents also like to set up several rest stations around the house to prevent their child from getting bored and cranky.

Come up with interesting but relaxing indoor activities

Even if your child has a cold, they may feel energetic and eager to resume their normal activities. While rest is important, a few enjoyable and calm activities can help your child keep their spirits up. Examples of low-energy indoor activities include puzzles, non-competitive board games, building toys, drawing, modeling with clay, and playing pretend with stuffed animals. Some parents also keep a stash of coloring books, puzzles, and quiet toys on hand that they bring out only on rainy days. These can be a good solution for keeping your child from getting bored during a sick day at home as well.

Help your child take their medicine

Pediatrician Dr. Tanya Altmann says, “Talk about 'medicine time' like it's an enjoyable thing. Kids can pick up on negative tone and body language.” Some antibiotics come in child-approved flavors such as grape and banana, while some pharmacies will add these flavors in free of charge. You may also want to give your child some measure of control over taking their medicine, such as offering them either a spoon or a small cup. This way, they may feel more confident and less afraid of the medicine. Explaining to your child that the medicine will help them feel better is another way to include them in the process and help them feel that they are an active participant. Young children love to feel involved, and giving them small amounts of control and influence over their medicine can go a long way.

Give your child plenty of fluids

Along with rest and medicine, ensuring your child stays well-hydrated is an important factor in healing. If your child doesn’t want to drink water, you can offer non-citrus fruit juice diluted with water to reduce the sugar. An oral rehydration solution such as Pedialyte is a quick way to replenish your child’s fluids and electrolytes after vomiting or diarrhea. Popsicles and clear soups are other sources of hydration to help your child get better.

Make cuddle time a priority

Your child will likely need comfort when they’re sick, and may even be a bit scared. Giving your child plenty of cuddles and attention will help them feel more comfortable and relaxed. This can also be an ideal opportunity to teach your child ways to prevent the spread of germs, such as coughing and sneezing into their elbow, and washing their hands frequently. If you can’t give your child physical affection, ensure that your child knows you’re nearby if they need you, and offer their favorite stuffed animals or comfort items.

Take care of yourself too

Even if your child’s illness is mild, you may be concerned or stressed about their wellbeing. This is perfectly natural, but it’s important to ensure you keep your own health in mind as well. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and finding ways to reduce your stress. You may want to cancel social engagements or delegate certain errands to other members of the household. Not only can this help prevent the spread of germs, but it can also give you a chance to relax and reduce your own chances of becoming sick.

Sometimes, despite the best precautions, your child can catch a bug and come home sick. However, with these tips, you can help take care of your sick preschooler and get them on the road to recovery.