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Sick-day survival: Holding down the fort when your little one is ill

By Teri Cettina
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One of your kids is sick and has to stay home, which probably means you have to stay home too. Keeping him or her comfortable and entertained can make the day go faster for both of you. shares some expert ideas.

Give good medicine

Being sick is hard enough -- it's nice if the medicine doesn't make your child feel worse. Ask your pediatrician to suggest over-the-counter remedies that are long-lasting or taste good, such as ones that come as lollipops or quick-dissolving strips. Don't jump straight to the drugstore remedies, says Neil Schachter, M.D., author of "The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds & Flu." For a cough, start with liquids (such as soup, or tea for older kids who like it) to wash away the mucus, and then an old-school antihistamine such as Benadryl, which often works better than some newer ones on the market. Only if those don't do the trick should you turn to a cough suppressant.

Bend some house rules

Whether that means giving your child some ginger ale or letting her snuggle with the dog on the couch, special privileges can bring comfort and cheer. Kellie Pease, a mom of three in Derby, Connecticut, sets up a sick-day-only snack table next to the living room sofa. "Since they're normally not allowed to eat or drink anywhere but the kitchen, it's a real treat," she says. "It also gets them to eat and drink better."

Try some home remedies

Theresa Duda, a mom of three, ages 6, 4, and 2, and a pediatric nurse-practitioner in Portland, Oregon, swears by warm, steamy baths about 30 minutes before bedtime to loosen chest or nasal congestion and to help relax kids' bodies. If your child doesn't have sensitive skin, a little eucalyptus or lavender essential oil added to bathwater can help open airways and provide a calming effect. (Always store essential oils well out of kids' reach.) Other easy ways to help your kid feel better, from Patricia Carroll, author of "What Nurses Know and Doctors Don't Have Time to Tell You":

For a stuffy or dry nose: Squirt a solution made from 2 cups warm water and 1 teaspoon salt up her nose through a bulb syringe.

For a sore throat: If she's old enough to gargle, try a mixture of 8 ounces warm water, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon baking soda. (Baking soda cuts the mucus that causes the pain.)

For sinus pain: Use a heating pad wherever she's feeling pressure. Or make your own by heating water and soaking washcloths in it.

Make the bed more welcoming

Give your child several layers of sheets and thin blankets so it's easy for her to peel them off to get cool or cuddle under them to stay warm. Plan on changing the sheets frequently, too. It's more laundry, but a fresh pillowcase just may lull a feverish kid to sleep. The final touch? Stuffed animals set up by your child's feet: Tell her they're there to watch over her and help her feel better.

Low-key fun

Set up some solo games

Deliver a pile of junk mail. To someone who doesn't get much mail, free address stickers and catalogs are very exciting. Or hand over a flashlight; a dark room is the perfect theater for light shows and shadow puppets. Tell him when you'll check back to see his show.

Join in the fun

Let your child be king of the house for 15 minutes once or twice a day: He gets to give silly commands ("Dance and sing the Hokey Pokey" or "Read me a funny story") as you humbly oblige. Play a game of memory with family photos, or draw a picture together, taking turns adding an arm, then a nose, until it's complete. When you need to get something done around the house, give your child one walkie-talkie while you carry the other one. Share jokes (Over!), describe what you're cooking (Over!), and keep in touch (Over!) throughout the day. More low-tech? Pay bills or fold laundry in his room to keep him company.

Air them out

A little fresh air can help a child feel and sleep better. "If he's up and moving inside, he can safely go outside and play a little or take a short walk with you," says Theresa Duda.

Dote on your healthy kids, too

Set up an art center in the kitchen, separate from the sick sibling, or let the healthy child choose the video from time to time. After all, sick days shouldn't be the only time your kids get extra attention. Otherwise, they might start complaining of the sniffles much more often!

Sanity savers for you

Accept a few favors

Even once your child is past the contagious stage, she'll probably still need to stay home a few days. That's when you may really be looking for a break. Take a friend up on her offer to watch your kids while you soak in the tub or run errands. To lower the chance that your mom friend will catch the bug, ask if she'll give you a quick break after your child's in bed.

Keep yourself from getting sick

It's one of life's great injustices that caring for a poor, sick child can lead to a just-as-sick mom. Hedge your bets by washing your hands more than you really think you need to, eat more foods rich in vitamin C, and scoop up those dirty tissues carefully by the edges.

Embrace the upheaval

Sick kids whine, complain, and clamp onto your legs as if they're permanent appendages because they simply don't know how to soothe themselves when they're feeling off. Instead of gritting your teeth, give in with as many hugs and cuddles as she needs, and you may be surprised that she stops clinging so much. That's because what kids often want most when they're sick isn't orange juice or cartoons: It's you.

Teri Cettina wrote "Great Car Games" for the August issue of Parenting.

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Copyright 2006 PARENTING magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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