Dear Dr. Debbie,
I’m enjoying some much needed “child-free” time since my four-year-old started school.
Unfortunately, just as I’ve gotten used to catching up on earning a living and a much improved standard of housework, she’s been frequently sniffling, coughing, and a few times, feverish. I keep her home—or pick her up if symptoms erupt at school—but wonder how much I should give in to her constant demands for attention after I’ve put her to bed?
Sharing bugs comes with the territory in a class of four-year-olds. One runny nose can quickly spread cold germs from child to child to tabletop to another child. Parents with children in school or childcare need to plan for the inevitability of staying home with a sick little one about 10 times a year. Keep your tissues, juice, and over the counter medicines in good supply. Friends and family can come in handy for errands and food while you’re otherwise occupied with the patient or exhaustion. Being selfish and supersensitive are her natural defenses as the body tries to get the extra attention it needs for care and recovery. Flexibility is key for dealing with the conflicts you face between these needs and competing demands.
A Prescription for Pampering
When a child is sick, this is the time to make exceptions to the regular routines and rules of the house.
Daytime accommodations should be set up for everyone’s best convenience. Your little patient might like to set up camp on the couch, with pillow and blanket, so that entertainment and your company are close at hand. Here she can get a quick response for the books, toys, or videos she needs to occupy the time—while you divide your attention between her and your work or housework.
A sicker child may warrant stricter bedrest treatment. In this case you bend the house rule about crumbs in the bed, or lying in your bed, or an extra dose of screen time to accommodate lots of resting time.
If you don’t normally let your child sleep with you, when she is delirious with fever you may want to keep close through the night. Somehow even minor discomforts are suffered more sweetly with snuggles from a beloved parent. If you emphasize the health reason behind it, the child will not see this as a permanent arrangement.
When food issues come up during illness, the concern for the child’s improved health should not be confused with “spoiling.” The usual rule about not serving juice after dinner is waived when dehydration is a possibility (extra liquids are crucial in the treatment of diarrhea, congestion, or sore throat). A cry for juice should be answered at any hour of the day or night in these circumstances. If a child has not been eating well because the sickness has robbed her of an appetite, offer small portions of sure-fire favorites. Regular mealtimes are abandoned in favor of whatever time the child shows any interest at all in eating. Normally forbidden foods can be helpful, too, when “ooey” tasting medicine must be taken. A swig of soda can help the amoxicillin go down.
Speaking of medicines, check with your pediatrician or pharmacist about behavioral side effects. A child can be abnormally active, irritable, or lethargic as a result of certain drugs. For example, your request for her to clean up the playroom may be answered with throwing the toys, a fit of crying, or a dramatic collapse on the floor. If behavioral problems are due to the medicine, a more sympathetic reaction to the “misbehavior” is called for.
Honesty is a Pretty Good Policy
Hopefully you have a compassionate boss who knows the importance of tending to your child when she’s sick. This is going to be your reality for the time being. Work tasks might be delegated to someone else while you manage the job for which there is no good substitute. If you’re self-employed, try to give yourself extra time to fulfill your clients’ needs. But if you find yourself struggling to meet a promised deadline due to a sick child, be upfront as soon as you realize a conflict is likely and ask for a reasonable delay.
Yes, caring for a sick child requires a lot of pampering. A sick child presents special challenges: sleepless nights, frequent interruptions of daily tasks, mustering the gentle force necessary in getting nasty medicine into a resisting mouth, weighing the well-meaning wisdom from friends and relatives against the advice of the pediatrician, and creative ideas to entertain your housebound or bedbound youngster.
You may desperately need a midday nap after a weary night with a sick child. Do you have family or friends for respite childcare? Check to see which of your regular sitters wouldn’t mind giving you a short break from your (non-contagious) child. If you must go on for days on end without a true break, reward yourself when your chance comes. Remind yourself of the hard work you are doing, and visualize the uninterrupted bubble bath you will have or the solitary stroll through the mall you will take when that pesky germ has run its course.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.