Best Way to Care for an Ill Child

Sickness in children can develop quickly and unexpectedly, especially with an infectious illness. Once you have made your child as comfortable as possible, you will need to make arrangements for any practical necessities such as picking up other children from playgroup or school, doing the shopping or contacting the person who will look after your child if you have to go to work. Some child-minders are happy to look after an ill child in their home if the child is not too unwell to be taken there. Sick children usually prefer to have their parents with them rather than anyone else, even if they know them well. However, it is often difficult for a working parent to take time off work.

When your child becomes sick, your plans may have to be abruptly altered if he needs to stay at home and you have to look after him. It may sound selfish even to mention the possibility of you feeling frustrated and disappointed at the disruption to your routine, but it’s a natural human response and is better acknowledged from the start.

Ill Child Best Way to Care for an Ill Child

Making your child comfortable

A really ill child tends to flop, so there’s no difficulty in deciding that he would be better off lying down. But it isn’t necessary to keep a child in a proper bed unless he really would be more comfortable there. A young child will probably be much happier near you and you won’t be able to spend all your day in the bedroom with him, so think about improvising a bed in the room where you’re likely to be spending most of your time. An older child may be happier in his bedroom where it’s quiet. You can always move a child from one room to another if necessary.

Babies and small children tend to need lots of comfort and closeness when they’re ill, so be prepared to interrupt whatever you’re doing and have a cuddle. If your child goes to sleep on your lap, you can gently transfer him to his bed.

A table placed beside the bed is useful for drinks and toys and an older child could have a tray (preferably one with a stand or legs). It may be helpful to have a potty close to the bed and a basin if he’s feeling sick.


A child who is ill in bed will be more comfortable with light bedding, such as a duvet, rather than heavy blankets. Cotton or poly-cotton sheets are better than synthetic ones. Straighten the sheets and other bedding every so often, especially if the child is restless. If he has been sick, change the pillowcase fairly soon because it’ll probably be rather smelly even if he wasn’t actually sick on it. An older child who is sweating from a fever will appreciate clean sheets and pillowcase.

Room temperature and humidity

For a child who is ill at home but without a fever, a room temperature of 20-21 °C (68-70°F) is comfortable if he is wearing ordinary clothes or pyjamas and is sitting or lying in bed. But if a child has a fever, it makes sense to lower the room temperature by opening a window and turning the heating down or off. On a hot summer’s day, open doors and windows to produce a draught or use an electric fan to cool the air. Remember to watch the child in case he becomes chilled.

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If your child has a respiratory complaint, such as croup, he’ll be more comfortable if the air in the room is relatively humid. Central heating and electric fires tend to dry out the air, so increase the humidity by standing a large bowl of water near the source of heating or by using a radiator-hung humidifier, electric humidifier or cold steam vaporizer.

Giving fluids

Children who are feverish, sweating or vomiting, or who have diarrhoea, lose a lot of fluid and need plenty of drinks to replace it in order to avoid becoming dehydrated. Anything the child fancies will do, but remember that milk contains relatively less water than plain water, diluted fruit juice, lemon barley water or squash. A savoury drink can be made from beef or vegetable extract as long as it doesn’t contain too much salt, because salt can make dehydration worse.


A child who is off colour may want little or nothing to eat, and it’s best not to force him. When he starts to improve, his appetite will return slowly. Encourage it by giving him small portions of his favourite foods, temptingly presented and easy to eat. If you’re worried about him not eating, consult your health visitor or doctor. Constipation can be a problem after a period of not eating so remember to include high-fibre foods in your child’s diet as soon as he will take them.


If your child has gastroenteritis, wash your hands thoroughly every time you touch him or his soiled nappies, clothing or eating utensils. Remind your older child to wash his hands after using the lavatory and make sure that you keep the lavatory and washbasin specially clean.

If he has an infectious disease, warn visitors – particularly the elderly or anyone who is pregnant or with very young children -in case they would prefer not to be in contact with the infection. Teach your child not to cough or sneeze without putting his hand, or preferably his handkerchief, in front of his mouth.


Early in the day, when you’re feeling fresh, think about the games, toys and books your child might like. A sick child may only be able to cope with simple toys and books that would normally be too young for him. The TV or video cassette recorder can be very useful for keeping an ill child amused. Most children want plenty of attention when they’re unwell, though they do tend to sleep for part of the day, which can give the people looking after them some welcome respite.

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One of the best medicines is your time, but it is often the hardest for a busy person to give. Try to make caring for your sick child your priority, but remember that you won’t be able to keep this up for long unless you have some practical support and unless you take care of yourself too.

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