A Guide to Sick-Kid Etiquette
Rest is best, but we all know your kids can’t always stay at home.
We’ve all witnessed the sick child who still goes to school or attends the birthday party. Heck, we’ve probably sent our kid off into the world a few times ourselves. After all, even if you and your little ones have gotten your flu shots and are regularly washing your hands, you can’t always avoid a cold.
We know, we know, no one wants a sick kid at a playdate. But when it’s sniffles season, we can’t let our kids stay home at every little cough or sneeze. Here are some rules to live by to determine whether your little one should stay at home, and what to do when you need to be out and about.
Figure out what the ailment is. A lot of symptoms—sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes and nose—are the same for different ailments. Once you determine what the issue is, you’ll be better equipped to come up with a plan of action—how to treat it, and if your child should be on lockdown or not. The flu requires bedrest and fluids, while a child over 6 with a cold can benefit from children’s cold medicine to ease coughing and congestion. If your child has a case of seasonal allergies, rather than a contagious illness, you can give them an allergy medication like Children’s Dimetapp to help relieve their symptoms if they’re 6 and up.
Confess ahead of time. When you know your child isn’t at 100 percent, giving your fellow parents and teachers the heads up is the right thing to do. Remember that parents have the right to turn down a playdate invite if they don’t want to take the risk. (And if allergies are the culprit, let them know that too so they’re not worrying about symptoms.) If you have plans you can’t skip, like a holiday meal with your extended family, remind your sniffly one to follow essential germ-fighting rules. Which takes us to…
Practice coughing into the elbow. As you teach your little one how to blow his nose into a tissue instead of grabbing the corners of your shirt, you also should teach him how to cough and sneeze into his elbow—and practice it yourself too. It’s natural to bring your palm to your face to cover up a sneeze or a cough, but the chance of touching something immediately after is very high. “You’re less likely to spread germs if you can cough or sneeze into your elbow—get into the habit of doing this yourself so your kids will mimic your behavior,” says Jack Gilbert, author of Dirt Is Good and a scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory at the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago.
Wash hands regularly. The fastest way to transmit germs is by sharing your cooties with everyone else. When your kids touch a germy surface, then touch their eyes, noses, and mouths—and you—before you know it, you and everyone you know is sick for the next month. “The easiest way to prevent germs is by washing hands with soap and water. It’s that simple,” Gilbert says. Research backs Gilbert up—a 2008 study showed that washing hands reduced the number of people who got sick with diarrhea by 32 percent. Remind your kids to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds after they use the bathroom, after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing, and before they eat.
When to Stay Home
If they have a fever or lingering cough, or their symptoms escalate to throwing up, diarrhea, chills, or stomach cramps, you should keep them at home and call your pediatrician for what steps to take next. And if your kid ends up needing a day of rest, embrace it. “Nowadays kids are being shuffled to sports, clubs, and extracurricular activities every day of the week; gone are the days of running around outside after school and just being a kid,” Gilbert says. Cuddle on the couch, and watch a movie or read a book with them to use R&R for some bonding time.