Yes, You Can Care For Sick Kids Without Getting Sick Yourself. Here's How
The second your child comes home with a stuffy nose, you don't just feel bad for them—you also worry that within a few days, your whole family will go down with whatever bug your sick child has.
There's no question that taking care of your child and avoiding getting sick yourself is a difficult line to walk—especially when you're busy. "Caring for a sick child can feel like a full-time job, and moms struggle to find time for self-care when their kids are sick," explains psychotherapist Katie Hurley, author of No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls. The secret, she explains, is prioritizing both your own self-care and your child's care. But what does that look like? Here's what experts have to stay about mindfully managing sick kids.
How to show your kids the love and care they need.
When your child is sick, whether it's with a mild cold, a fever, or even the flu, what they need is tons of cuddling. "The good news is that you can snuggle up with your child when they’re sick," says Hurley. "Teach your child to cough or sneeze into his or her elbow to avoid spreading germs, and be sure to clean up things like dirty tissues with gloves on. One trick to avoid used tissues all over the floor is to tape an old tissue box to a new one to use as a trash bin for used tissues."
Hurley also suggests not letting yourself overthink on sick days. "As parents we are conditioned to worry about screen time and idle time, but sick days are not a time for overthinking. If Sesame Street (or another favorite show) helps your kid rest and gives you a chance to shower, go for it," suggests Eanes. "My daughter catches up on cooking shows when she’s sick. This helps her rest and plan healthy meals to make when she’s feeling better!"
Rebecca Eanes, author of The Positive Parenting Workbook adds that your nurturing doesn't necessarily have to be physical. "That looks like reading books together, board games, and snuggles," she says. "I also don't hesitate to ask for help when I need it."
How to prioritize your own self-care.
As the saying goes, make sure to fasten your own seatbelt first. It's hard to help your child get better if you're getting sick yourself. Eanes says in this time period, it's important to lose the guilt if you can. "For me, stress management and adequate sleep are the best ways to take care of myself so that I can best take care of my child," says Eanes. "That means some things have to be let go or put off until things resume to normal, and I feel zero guilt for reprioritizing in that way."
Hurley also reminds parents that even if they don't have as much time for exercise and eating well as usual, they should still make sure it happens. "Use technology to your advantage to keep your healthy eating on track by having groceries and meals delivered," she suggests. "Some areas even offer subscription boxes for fresh fruits and veggies—take advantage of these services to care for your own needs. Technology can also assist with keeping up your exercise routine. Yoga apps and short workout apps can be used while your child naps to help give you the energy boost you need."
Action steps you can take to avoid getting sick.
The most important thing you can do to avoid getting sick yourself is to build a strong immune system so that when your child gets sick, it doesn't mean the exact same thing will happen to you. "This really means embracing a healthy lifestyle," says Eanes. "Researchers at Harvard recommend eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, and minimizing stress. None of these recommendations are necessarily easy for on-the-go busy parents, but self-care shouldn't just happen when sickness strikes but should really part of our lifestyle. "
And in the short term, Eanes suggests washing your hands frequently or even wearing an antiviral mask if your child is highly contagious. "You may want to consider extra vitamin C, which does appear to reduce the duration of a cold, and elderberry syrup, which may help reduce swelling in the mucus membranes and has antiviral properties, but always ask your doctor first," she adds.
There's no question that having a sick kid at home is difficult, but if you take the right mindful precautions, you'll be just fine.
Want more mindful parenting tips? Here are nine super-helpful ones.