9 Ways to Stay Healthy When Your Child Is Sick

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  • It happens all the time: One member of the family gets sick, and before you know it, you’re all down for the count. Or worse, as soon as one’s illness ends, another’s begins, and your house turns into a round-the-clock recovery unit for weeks. Whether you have babies, toddlers, young kids or all the above, avoiding the latest illness in your household can feel like a high-stakes family game of germ keep-away. Though you can’t avoid every cough, cold, or stomach bug, changes you make in your home can improve your odds of winning the germ game.

  • 1
    Revisit proper hand washing.
    Kitchen faucet

    Remind your child (and yourself) to wash hands often, and always wash before preparing or eating food and after you use the bathroom or change a diaper. Be sure to scrub your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds; you can time it by humming the “Happy Birthday” song twice. An alcohol-based sanitizer or hand wipe will do in a pinch.

  • 2
    Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
    Woman With Headache Holding Hand on Head

    Sharing germs spreads disease. Germs are often spread when you touch a surface or object that your child has contaminated, and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Keep in mind that if your child has the flu, she may be contagious as early as 1 day before and as late as 5 to 7 days after getting sick. Plan on about a week of germaphobia.

  • 3
    Use tissues, or teach the arm technique.

    If you haven’t already—or if your child still can’t quite remember—teach him to sneeze and cough into the bend of his arm if he doesn't have a tissue handy. That technique helps keep germs from spreading by air (or by hand if he coughs or sneezes into his hand). Keep the house clear of contagious clutter by putting used tissues into the trash right away and then wash hands carefully.

  • 4
    To each his own.
    Little Boy in towel

    Don't share drinking glasses, utensils, toothbrushes, or towels with other family members when one or more of you are sick. Use your own glass or disposable cup, and label the cups or glasses with each family member’s name so you don’t get them confused.

  • 5
    Male Cleaning the Kitchen

    Let’s face it, even the most OCD parent can’t run behind his or her kid 24/7, sanitizing every square inch of the house. Focus your efforts on areas where your child’s germs are more likely to linger. Frequently clean hard surfaces—such as bathroom and kitchen counters, toilets, and the diaper changing table—and objects, such as toys and the TV remote, with a household disinfectant. (Some soft toys can be cleaned in the washing machine.) Use disposable cloths or paper towels when possible, and disinfect reusable cloths after each use. (As always, keep all cleaning products out of reach of infants and young children).

  • 6
    Make the kitchen off-limits.

    Since germs are often passed from hand to mouth, it’s best to keep a sick child out of the kitchen where you prepare food. Along with glasses and utensils, food can easily be contaminated.

  • 7
    Cuddle with caution.
    Mother with sick child

    When your child is curled up sweetly on the couch—feeling weak, feverish, and in need of extra TLC, it’s hard not to get all caught up in the love fest. But it’s a good idea to limit your exposure to her germs and be sure to wash your hands each time you touch or give a sympathetic hug. If you have other children in the house, consider keeping your sick child in a separate room nearby, and pop in often for checkups, meals, and medicine delivery.

  • 8
    Get vaccinated.
    Injection, doctor administering injection to patient's arm

    The single best way to prevent the flu is for every family member to get a flu vaccine. The seasonal flu vaccine, which your doctor’s office can administer as an injection or nasal mist, protects against the most common influenza viruses predicted for the upcoming season. Talk to your doctor about the best time to get it and the most effective options for you and your kids.

  • 9
    Take care of you.
    Mature couple exercising

    Last, but certainly not least, keeping up your strength during your child’s illness is one of the best ways not only to help you both get through it, but to help prevent your immune system from weakening itself. Be sure to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, and try to rest as much as possible (nap when your child is napping). If you can get out for a little sunshine and exercise—to relieve the stress—all the better.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 10
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Common Cold Prevention. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/basics/prevention/con-20019062

  2. Stopping the Spread of Germs at Home, Work & School. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/stopgerms.htm

  3. How to Prevent Germs from Spreading. NHS Choices. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/homehygiene/Pages/prevent-germs-from-spreading.aspx

  4. Germ Prevention Strategies. Healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/prevention/Pages/Germ-Prevention-St...

  5. Germs and Hygiene. MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/germsandhygiene.html

  6. The Flu: A Guide for Parents. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/updated/fluguideforparents.pdf

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