Child Illness Parent Advice Short Term Illness

Short-term illness in children generally challenges parental coping strategies. Sick children, whether suffering from colds, the flu, food poisoning or diarrhea, require a fair dose of parental care and attention even if medical care or medication isn’t warranted.

Explaining Short-Term Illness

“Why me?” is often the question sick children and, at times, sick adults ask. Answering this and explaining short-term illness to a child can be difficult, especially if colds or flu disrupt birthday parties or other events. Sick children often believe that short-term illness is a punishment for something they’ve done wrong.

Explain to the child that the cold, the flu or any other illness is not a punishment: It’s just something that happens. Understanding short-term illness can help some sick children deal with their symptoms.

When explaining the current illness that afflicts your child, you may want to discuss ways to prevent future short-term illness, such as regular hand-washing. However, try to do it without assigning blame. Let’s face it, sick children are miserable enough without getting a lecture!

Food poisoning is a common short-term illness. Understandably, after a bout of diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, sick children may be a little leery of eating anything they believe caused the food poisoning. Try explaining that bacteria in the food, rather than the food itself, caused the food poisoning.

Understanding Short-Term Illness and Infection

Explaining short-term illness to a child often includes explaining why they have to be isolated from the rest of the family. Many types of short-term illness are infectious. You’re already caring for one sick, cranky kid: Do you really want to have rest of the family coming down with the flu?

Understanding short-term illness includes understanding how colds and the flu spread. The better a child’s understanding of short-term illness is, the less chance that the rest of the family will also fall sick.

Ways to prevent the spread of short-term illness include:

  • cleaning infected areas with household disinfectant
  • emphasizing the need to wash hands regularly
  • having children use their own towel and soap
  • insisting the child covers his mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • not sharing eating utensils
  • thoroughly washing all bedclothes and toys after the illness passes.

Treating Short-Term Illness Symptoms

While understanding short-term illness may help children accept that they’re sick, they still need symptom relief. Because most short-term illness, such as flu, colds and food poisoning, don’t respond to antibiotics, treatment revolves around alleviating symptoms.

Here are some of the most common short-term illness symptoms and treatment suggestions:

  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea, a common symptom of food poisoning, must be closely monitored to prevent dehydration. Clear fluids such as broth, water and electrolyte-enhanced drinks help prevent dehydration.
  • Fever: Fevers and the sweating that accompanies them are another dehydrating factor. Keep fluids up, especially with clear broths. Because a child with flu and a fever may not have much of an appetite, stick to small foods, such as finger food with dips and sauces, to increase the chance of the child eating enough calories.
  • Sore Throat: A sore throat is a common complaint of children with colds and the flu. In addition to over-the-counter throat lozenges, children over one year old may get relief through a mixture of decaffeinated tea and honey.
  • Stuffy Noses: Sore, stuffy noses are the hallmark of childhood colds. Vapor rubs and nasal sprays help relieve some symptoms. A hot steamy shower or even a bowl of steamy chicken soup help break up clogged mucus.
  • Vomiting: Vomiting and diarrhea can both occur with food poisoning, and either may result in dehydration. Keeping clear fluids down can be a problem with a vomiting child. Have the child suck on natural fruit juice ice pops: This delivers a slow amount of fluid to the stomach and makes vomiting less likely.

Coping Strategies for Parents and Sick Children

Most all kids with short-term illnesses suffer from one common symptom: boredom. Nobody likes being sick, especially not active children. Parents need to suggest coping strategies to keep their child (and themselves) sane during a bout of short-term illness.

Although television and video games are the most tempting coping strategies, they should only be used in moderation. Besides, a child with a bad flu or cold may have headaches that get worse with too much television.

A sick child benefits from some quiet time with a parent. Reading together, playing card games and doing simple crafts with your child occupies both of you and prevents the child from feeling socially isolated. Puzzle books with word searches and connect the dots as well as coloring books can also make great activities for sick children.


FamilyFun (n.d.). Sick day activities. Retrieved February 21, 2006, from the FamilyFun Web site:

Parents Magazine (2000). Meals that heal: What to feed your sick child. Retrieved February 21, 2006, from the Parents Magazine Web site: