Whether your child has the flu or just a cold, these tips can make a cruddy situation better.

By Julie H. Case
August 29, 2018
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A sick kid is no fun. Luckily, there are some tricks any parent can employ to make getting better easier. Here are nine tips for making the sick time fly by, and wellness come sooner.

1. Hydrate with more than water

To speed recovery, hydrate. "The more you drink, the quicker you will recover and flush out the toxins," says Joel Gator Warsh, M.D., MSc. Hydration is also important, says Dr. Warsh, because kids with fevers sweat more and those fluids need to be replaced.

Smaller is better in the case of kids with a stomach ache, so choose small, frequent sips, increasing volume as tolerated. Dina DiMaggio, M.D., FAAP, also recommends an electrolyte drink, such as Pedialyte, which can even be given by the teaspoon every five to 10 minutes until tolerance increases. Or, choose Pedialyte freezer pops. "Because what kid doesn't like a popsicle?" says Dr. DiMaggio.

Chicken noodle soup is another excellent choice for increasing hydration—there's a reason it's so popular—just watch for high sodium levels.

2. Nix the screen-time rules

Because the body needs rest, kids should hit the couch and chill. Watching TV or movies or reading are good options, although video games that get them excited may not be.

"If the child feels well enough to be up and is bored, try easy activities like board games, cards, reading, or coloring," says Jaime Friedman, M.D., FAAP. "While we don't encourage excessive screen time, a day on the couch watching movies is okay when a child isn't feeling well."

3. Use a thermometer

To know if your child has a fever, always opt to take their temperature with a thermometer as studies have shown the "hand method" to be inaccurate.

4. Monitor any fever

"It's important to know if a child truly has a fever—a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit—not because fever is dangerous, but because we use it to track an illness, especially if we are worried that the child is not improving or may have more than a routine virus," says Dr. Friedman.

Because low-grade temps and borderline fevers don't require medication it is always best to check for a fever before medicating. Dr. Friedman usually recommends medicating when the child's temperature is in excess of 102 degrees. And, says Dr. DiMaggio, a fever in a child younger than 2 months is always an emergency.

5. Avoid cold showers

Dr. Friedman argues that young children should never be cooled off with alcohol wipes or put in a cold bath to lower their temperature. "This may not only be uncomfortable but may also cause rapid swings in temperature, which can lead to a febrile seizure," she says.

6. Opt for acetaminophen, not aspirin

While aspirin is approved for kids over age 3, because it has been linked to Reye's syndrome it should never be given to children and teens recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"For fever or discomfort, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used either as directed by the doctor or according to the dosing on the package," says Dr. Friedman. Give any medication that has been prescribed according to the directions.

7. Keep the rest of the house healthy

Don't allow family members to share utensils or food, and everyone should keep up with sleep and healthy eating so they can be prepared to fight an illness, says Dr. Friedman.

But, the best defense is a good offense. To prevent the spread of illness, cover your cough and wash your hands.

"In the toddler years, when the kids are in daycare, there are a lot of germs going around," says Dr. DiMaggio. "Practice handwashing when they come home, and before they eat. Also, practice sneezing in the arm."

8. Serve probiotics and BRAT

Dr. DiMaggio recommends feeding kids who have had diarrhea the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Not only are those items more binding, they're also comfort food. She also says that probiotics—especially those that are kid-friendly such as Culturelle or Florastor—can help restore the bowel flora.

9. Know there's no magic pill

There is no cure-all or a general case of feeling crummy but rest, fluids and pain control, according to Dr. Friedman. A warm compress or heating pad is good for earaches, muscle aches or tummy aches.

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