The Busy Parent’s Guide to a Stress-Free Kid’s Sick Day
When your kid wakes up with a fever or vomiting, it throws your whole day off. Here’s what to do when illness comes calling.
It’s still September, and if you’re like me, you’re still taking dips in the pool and lamenting the heat while you wish for cooler weather. But school is back in session and that means lots of kids crammed into closed spaces with all kinds of germs. You might think it’s too early to think about sick days, but there’s plenty to do before one arrives.
Let’s talk about what to do before your kid gets sick as well as what to do when the first sick day arrives.
Sick Day Advance Planning
The key to a stress-free sick day is planning what you’ll do and finding out what you need to know ahead of time. Instead of waiting until your kid has a runny nose or upset tummy, get things figured out and plans in place now.
Know when they need to stay home from school and/or daycare
As a parent, you’ve probably dealt with plenty of illnesses with your kid before. Knowing how to judge their illness is likely old news to you by now. But school attendance policies and pressure from teachers to be present every day can conflict with your judgment and make you doubt yourself.
As a general rule, if your child has a fever, is vomiting or has diarrhea, they should stay home. Even if you can control the symptoms with medication, they’re still contagious. Beyond those, you should check the school’s policy and trust your own judgment.
Consider not only whether your child could pass their illness on, but also how their illness would impact their day. Would they be able to sit and pay attention without being cranky or falling asleep? Are they going to be able to effectively learn? Would they truly benefit from being at school or would it only result in a checkmark indicating they were there?
Discuss sick day plans with your spouse, partner, etc.
If you’re a single parent with no support system, then it’s all on you to stay home with your kid when they’re sick. But what if you have a spouse or partner? What if you have an aunt, grandma, or close friend who can help out?
Discuss sick day plans with your spouse, partner, or other support person. These discussions should include details on things like:
· Who will stay home with a sick kid?
· Who will pick up a kid who gets sick at school?
· What will happen if the child is sick for multiple days?
· At what point does illness warrant a call to the doctor?
· What treatments will you use (i.e., Pepto for an upset stomach, Nyquil for flu, etc.)?
Some may seem like obvious questions, such as what treatments to use or when to call the doctor. But for a parent or support person who perhaps hasn’t played a huge role in handling sick children, it can be helpful to make sure you’re both on the same page about what to use, when to use it, and how much to use.
Other questions, such as who will stay home or who will pick up the sick child at school, should be discussed to make sure your plan makes sense. For example, if one of you has a more flexible schedule than the other, it makes sense that that parent should handle sick days. If one is more easily reached while working, that should be the parent who picks up a sick child at school.
You may also consider alternating who stays home so that neither of you misses more work than necessary. You may also think about trading off who’s home after the child has been sick for a certain number of days — so that you don’t end up missing more work than you have to.
Enlist extra help
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, close family friends, or even a paid babysitter can all be useful allies when a kiddo gets sick. If you have a retired grandparent or someone close to you who is easily available, try to enlist them as your sick-day sitter so you don’t have to miss work every time. You may also find a sitter in your area who specifically takes on sick kids — or at least one who’s willing to come stay with your sick kid.
You’ll also want to seek help with other things. Finding someone who can pick up prescriptions or a few quick groceries, swing by the library for some books or movies (that you’ll disinfect before returning, I hope!), or pick up missed schoolwork can be a huge weight off your shoulders.
Stay on top of school policy
What is the school or daycare’s policy on illness? Do they require kids be fever-free for 24 hours? No vomiting or diarrhea for 48 hours? Do you need a doctor’s note? What if your child has allergies that mimic illness?
These are all questions to ask now. Write down the answers you get, as well as who gave them to you, for future reference.
You’ll also want to ask questions such as who to contact when your child stays home and how to get any missed assignments.
Know your workplace culture
If you work for yourself, then you make the rules. But what if you work for someone else? Workplace culture can make or break your career, particularly when it comes to your absence.
How does your boss feel about children? What about your co-workers? Clients? How do all those people feel about dropping their work for a day or more to care for a sick child? Is there a plan in place that allows someone else to pick up your work in your absence — without a lot of grief?
Maybe you have an employer that will let you work from home — or let you bring in a well-behaved sick child who can lie in a corner or on a couch in your office while you work. Or maybe it’s clear that while they won’t refuse you the time off, it will come back to bite you when it comes to promotions, raises, or getting laid off if the company faces hard times.
Knowing this before sick days happen will help you make better decisions with your partner about how to handle sick days.
Make written agreements with daycare centers
Some parents are fortunate enough to have a daycare center that will take on their sick kids. They might be a sick-only center or have a sick room just for the kiddos that are under the weather. If you’re lucky enough to find such a center, make sure you have written agreements about what exactly is accepted.
Confirm how sick your kid can be, how many days they can be there while sick, and the cost. Determine whether they administer medications, and if so, what they need from you to do so. Ask what they do if your child’s condition worsens — and if you prefer to be contacted sooner or differently than what they typically offer, make sure that’s in your written agreement and kept on file by the center.
Seek out & use community resources
When your kid is sick, the second to last thing you want to do is take them out to run errands or pick up things you need. The last thing you want to do is leave them home alone while you do those things. So what do you do?
You take the time now to compile your community resources that can help you out in this time of need. Find local grocery stores that deliver groceries and pharmacies that deliver both over-the-counter and prescription medications. If those aren’t options, seek out delivery services (similar to Uber Eats or Doordash) that can pick up and deliver those things for you.
Look for an urgent care or pediatrician’s office that has a separate room for sick kids, and also offers same-day appointments for sick little ones. Ideally, they’ll also offer a nurse line you can call first to determine if you even need an appointment.
Take the time to think about any other resources you might need to make use of. Maybe you need a health food store, someone who makes homemade elderberry syrup, or someone who can shovel snow from your driveway so that you can easily get out to the doctor.
Now that you’re home with a sick kid
You’ve made all your plans, have your resources, and now your kid is sick. Here’s how to keep staying home stress-free.
Contact the school and/or daycare
As soon as you realize that your child is too sick to go to school, go ahead and call the school and/or daycare. Depending on their policies, you may be able to leave a message on voice mail or you may need to call back until you get a live person. Personally, I recommend talking to a live person anyway — this gives you a name if there are any mistakes and you’re later told you didn’t report your child’s absence.
Arrange work coverage
Arranging work coverage is unique to your situation. It might mean calling your employer and letting them know you’ll be out. It may mean asking for someone to bring you your work.
If you work for yourself, you might reach out and let clients know that you’ve got a sick kiddo and therefore will not be available today. You might let them know you’ll still be working on their projects but simply aren’t available for calls or meetings. Or you might tell them you’re not working at all.
Whatever it looks like for you, make sure you don’t skip this step. Nothing will lead to more stress for you than realizing that your work is in jeopardy because you forgot to inform others you wouldn’t be in the office today.
Enjoy quiet activities
Some little ones are naturally quiet and low-energy when they’re sick, while others become a bit more hyper and loud. Either way, the road to recovery is relaxation and rest. Quiet activities are best for healing.
Reading, coloring, and quiet, simple crafts are all great choices. This can also be a great use of screen time. Turning on some favorite movies or tv shows that will allow your child to watch or nap as needed is a great way to keep them still and rested.
Even if your child seems to be feeling better, encourage continued calm activities. You don’t want to have them relapse because they tried to be active again too quickly.
Serve comfort foods and plenty of liquids
Chicken soup is a classic sick day dish. It has lots of benefits for healing so it should be first on your list unless there are allergies. Beyond that, other good choices might include toast (with or without butter, jelly or other toppings), crackers, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese. Of course, all foods offered should be based on your child’s preferences and how sick they are.
Pushing plenty of fluids is important regardless of their illness, however. Vomiting and diarrhea can both contribute to dehydration, so even if it seems like your child isn’t keeping anything down, taking regular small sips is still beneficial.
You might also consider using an electrolyte solution, such as Pedialyte or Gatorade, to replenish fluids instead of plain water.
Follow doctor’s orders
If your child’s illness was enough to warrant a visit to the doctor, make sure you follow all instructions you were given. This includes taking the full course of any prescribed medication, activity limits, food or drink restrictions, and when they can return to school.
I know how tempting it can be to swing right back into life as usual when your child is feeling better. They want to get back to playing and friends, and you want to get back to work. But illness can be a tricky beast. You can start to feel better for a few hours only to start feeling worse than before. You can start to feel better only to push too hard and cause a relapse. You can still be sick enough to contaminate others while feeling on top of the world.
Stick with the doctor’s orders. Even if there are no doctor’s orders, stick with the simple rule of taking it easy. If your kid is feeling better, that’s great. Start easing gently back into typical activities but do it slowly and watch carefully for signs that maybe they aren’t feeling as great as they seem.
Clean EVERYTHING once your child has recovered
The key here is cleaning everything and only doing it after your child isn’t sick. Often, we try to clean throughout the illness. But this is a waste because our kids just keep touching the same things over and over, so we have to clean them over and over.
Now, I’m not saying you should not clean while your child is sick. Of course, you should wipe down and clean bathroom surfaces, change hand towels daily, etc. But the deep cleaning? The scrubbing and sanitizing of surfaces and things?
Once your child is truly on the mend, then it’s time to really clean. Wash sheets and clothes again, spray down the fabrics of furniture, scrub the kitchen and bathroom. Wash dishes, vacuum and mop floors. Don’t forget doorknobs, remote controls, and cell phones, too. Books and toys should also be cleaned. And remember to change your child’s toothbrush, too!
You might still end up a bit stressed by a sick day. Your kid is sick, after all. Who wouldn’t feel a little stressed? But by putting a plan in place before it happens, and following a few simple steps when it does, you can eliminate a lot of the stress.
Do you have any other sick day tips to share?