When Kids Are Sick at HomeNov 01, 2023
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Cold and flu season is here, and it’s just a reality that kids get sick a lot (which can be really stressful for parents). Today, I’ll help you manage when kids are sick at home.
While taking care of sick kids is a part of parenting, it is also a big disruption to your life. And if they’re not sleeping well, it can be pretty exhausting, too. In this episode, I’m sharing ways to manage your mind and energy when kids are sick, how to create a sick day plan and what to do with them while they’re home.
Before we really get into it, there are a few thoughts that I think really help when your kids are sick at home.
Thought #1: This is normal. As I researched this episode, I came across a statistic that small children routinely get 8 to 10 colds or viruses per year. That's nearly 1 per month! I don’t share this to worry you, but to let you know that it is totally normal for your kids to get sick (and it does get better as they get older).
Thought #2: It is not your fault that your kid is sick. It's not because you're not a good mom. It's not because you aren't feeding them right or they're not good about handwashing. Even in a “perfect” scenario, kids are going to get sick sometimes.
Thought #3: You are not powerless. You may not have control over the timing of your kid’s sickness, but you are not powerless in how you handle it.
Manage Your Mindset When Kids Are Sick
There are two parts that are frustrating when it comes to having a sick kid at home: The disruption to your routine and the exhaustion and energy drain.
You are entitled to feel that frustration, but I don’t want you to stay stuck there.
There are strategies you can use to manage your mind and feel better about the situation when your kid is sick at home.
Adjust your schedule
Maybe you have a big meeting at work, plans with a friend or a doctor’s appointment on the calendar. Look at the calendar and see what you can be rescheduled or put off to make the next few days as simple as possible.
Shift your priorities
Imagine a Ferris Wheel. Each bucket or seat holds some part of your life - physical health, mental health, social life, hobbies, work, your kids, etc.
When things are flowing and the Ferris Wheel is turning, everything has a place and moves along beautifully. But there are also times (like when the Ferris Wheel is loading or unloading) when things stop, and only the bucket at the top is getting the good view.
When your kid is sick, for instance, you aren’t going to be able to take care of ALL the other things on the Ferris Wheel. I like to remind myself that the things at the bottom of the Ferris Wheel are still there and that I trust myself to get back to them once the wheel is turning again.
Remember, this is a temporary adjustment. When your kid is feeling better, you can readjust your priorities again and do a little catch-up.
Lower your standards
You probably have some rhythms and routines around the things that are important to you. As a mom, you take care of a lot of things. And there are times when you can't take care of them all.
Maybe you only allow your kid to sleep in their own bed, and they want to sleep with you. Maybe you have rules around screentime, but you decide it’s okay for them to lay and watch Daniel Tiger all day when they’re sick. Or they don’t have much of an appetite and don’t eat their vegetables.
Changing the routine for a few days is okay! You can still set boundaries around what they’re watching etc., but know that it’s an unusual circumstance that won’t last forever.
Rest when they rest
When your kid is first sick, they might nap a lot or want to snuggle up with you more than usual. You do not need to spend this time running around and trying to get a bunch of stuff done.
Taking care of a sick kid is not easy. It’s work. Rest so that you can have patience with them. Rest so you can keep yourself healthy.
Use the 3 Rs to regulate your nervous system
What we really want to avoid is you dumping all of your frustration and fatigue onto your kid. Compassion fatigue is real, so you have to work extra hard at regulating your nervous system and stress response so that you have the capacity to keep showing up for them.
Rhythm: Move your body. Do a little stretching or a workout. Put on some music and dance. Get your energy up and out of your body.
Relationship: Talk or vent to your partner, friend or family member. Get some emotional support.
Reward: Get a little dopamine hit. Sometimes getting a small task done can make you feel good, but make sure you’re doing it with the intention of helping yourself (not just powering through a to-do list).
Get a break if you can
Take a break to shower, lay down, go for a walk, meet up with a friend, etc. If you have a partner, ask for their help so that you can step away from nursing duty for a little while. Be clear and communicate your need for support. Then follow through.
Often, moms (especially stay-at-home moms) think it’s our job to be on duty ALL the time. But if you have a partner, it is their job to take care of their child, too. They might say no, but it is still important to invite them to participate in that parenting with you.
Prepare For When Kids Are Sick at Home
Being prepared can help us feel less overwhelmed when things get thrown off. Here are a few simple ways to be ready for the next time your kid is sick.
Create a sick day kit
This doesn’t have to be super Pinterest-y. It’s meant to be practical. Keep this kit in its own bin or bag and away from kids - sick days only!
Some ideas of things to put in your kit are new coloring or activity books, stickers, a new stuffed animal, puzzle, craft kits, fresh Play Doh, a “sick day” cup, bath bomb or special snacks. You’ll also want a box of Kleenex, throat lozenges for older kids and medicines like Tylenol. A humidifier, throw-up bucket and plastic bags are also good to have on hand.
Make a sick day plan
Decide with your partner in advance who will take care of the kids if they are sick. How many days is that parent expected to take care of the kid? Is there a point when the other parent will need to tap in? It’s usually not realistic for this to be completely equal, but there should be some sort of balance so that it feels respectful of both people.
If you aren’t partnered, or your partner is not able to take time off, think outside the box about how you can get a little extra support from another family member, neighbor, babysitter etc. Even just someone who can come over while your kid is napping so you can take a shower.
Talk to your supervisor and colleagues at work about what will happen if you need to stay home with sick kids. Can you make a plan to work remotely or create some other backup plan?
Think about activities for sick days
These are meant to be activities you can do while your kids are sick that aren’t exhausting for you. A few ideas:
- Make a pillow fort (it also gives them a cozy little place to rest)
- Have a bubble bath
- Have a tea party
- Do a simple craft
- Watch a movie together
- Serve breakfast or lunch in bed
- Play a board game or cards
- FaceTime relatives
- Sit outside on a blanket if the weather is nice (or just look out your window at cars going by, birds, clouds, etc.)
- Go for a walk
The last day of illness is the worst day. They’re too sick to go to school, but they’re not sick enough to rest all day. You’re also probably a little worn by this point, but if you let them watch TV all day, they get wild.
This is the day you go for a walk or to the park. Run a couple of errands. Start having them catch up on school work they missed. You can start to treat it like a normal day with more normal rhythms and limits.
Maybe you can even celebrate a little because, deep down in your heart, you know they're going to school the next day, and you're almost done!
I hope these tips help you feel prepared as we head into the winter season and all the gunk that comes with it. It's okay to take care of your kids and yourself if you're sick. And it’s easier to manage when you have a plan.
- 3 thoughts to help you calm yourself when your kids are sick at home
- 6 tips to adjust to kids being home sick
- Why life is like a Ferris Wheel
- How to create a simple sick day kit to have at the ready
- Conversations to have as you create your sick day plan
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