Kids are little petri dishes.
Adorable little petri dishes, but petri dishes nonetheless.
Despite our best efforts to keep them healthy—and as you can see in this other recent post, I really, really do try to keep them healthy—they get sick. It happens. It’s a normal part of life, and it helps their immune systems to develop and blah blah blah. Whatever. It sucks.
One of the suckiest parts is that illnesses often tend to come on fast and late at the night, and if you’re not prepared and well stocked, you’re kind of screwed. I mean, the last thing you want to do is bundle up your sick kid and head to the store for some sick-day essentials. Because you know that won’t go well.
So, here are the things that you should always have on hand, just in case the sh*t hits the fan—and also the booger and the vomit and God knows what else. These are kids we’re talking about.
I honestly don’t know what I would do without these. I have sung their praises before, and they deserve every bit of my adulation. (Check out 7 Overlooked Baby Essentials.) The wipes, which are softened with saline, are gentle on runny, raw little noses, and they also help break up any crustiness without pain. Whenever we run out of them, it’s a crisis. You realize just how rough and abrasive even the most aloe-laden tissues are when you have to use them on kids. Trust me: Stock up. If you only get one of these sick-day essentials, it should be this one.
Little kids aren’t great at blowing their own noses, and that’s putting it mildly. A saline spray will do part of the work for them by loosening up boogey or crusty noses, forcing a sneeze or just allowing the gunk to seep out naturally. I like this very basic one from Simply Saline, which was recommended by my pediatrician. Babies don’t love the feeling of something being stuck up and sprayed in their noses, I’ll be honest with you, but my preschooler now thinks it’s hilarious.
Tip: Make sure to wrap your arms around your baby or toddler’s arms and entire body when you attempt this so that you can actually administer it—and administer it safely.
A REALLY STEAMY SHOWER
For extreme congestion and nasty coughs, nothing beats sitting in your own makeshift steam room. The hot, moist air opens up clogged airways and makes it easier to cough up phlegm. Warning: You might want to bring a glass of cold water into the bathroom for yourself. It can get really hot in there, and the last thing you want to do is feel dizzy.
INFANTS’ AND CHILDREN’S TYLENOL
Personally, I don’t like giving medicine to young kids unless it’s absolutely necessary. The job of a fever is to fight infection, so I try to let it do its job. That said, once that fever goes past 101, my comfort threshold has been passed. At that point, a child is usually achy, shivering, lethargic, out of it, and absolutely miserable. Super high fevers are common among babies, but last year, my then-6-month-old’s skyrocketed to nearly 105—and that was with medication. If one more dose of Tylenol didn’t take it down, we would have had to take her to the hospital. Thank God it worked, and we were able to get it under control after that. So, have it on hand, always call your doctor if your little one runs a fever, and see if you should use it as a first line of defense.
SALTINES AND STRAWBERRY JELLY
These are my mother’s staples for the stomach flu, and they are always in my pantry. This “meal” is just about the blandest thing you can imagine…with a little bit of salt and sugar to restore a body’s depleted levels of both. Obviously, there aren’t many/any real nutrients in here, but it’s the first step in filling a little tummy and seeing if it can tolerate food before introducing anything harder to digest. Flat ginger ale is also one of the sick-day essentials once you’re in recovery mode.
As long as we’re not talking about the stomach flu, chicken soup springs to mind, especially since it can also help you breathe, but good luck getting my preschooler to eat it. If you have a similarly picky eater, don’t fight it. Go with whatever will make your kid happy and actually eat—bright orange Kraft Mac and Cheese, ice cream to soothe a sore throat, neon-colored Jell-O, waffles for dinner and the like. The bonus? Kids feel better when they eat, yes, but they’ll also remember these moments with you when they’re older and feel all warm and fuzzy when they do.
This is the fancy term for a snot sucker. Personally, I prefer the old-fashioned bulb that uses suction to get out the snot, but if you don’t clean it out properly—and even if you sometimes do—it can apparently get moldy on the inside. Just an FYI, I checked mine after having it for quite a while, and it was absolutely fine. Make sure to follow the cleaning directions carefully.
If that still makes you nervous, many moms swear by the NoseFrida Nasal Aspirator, which lets you literally suck out your kid’s snot with your mouth and a tube. Apparently this is somehow not as gross as it sounds, and of course it’s all sanitary and hygienic and whatnot. I’m still a little too squeamish for this (who knew I still had boundaries?!), but that might just be me.
For young babies, you really need a rectal thermometer to get an accurate read. For older babies and children, I like this ear thermometer from Braun, which is quick, accurate and comfortable for little ears. I also love that the “lens filter” tips are replaceable, making it super sanitary for the next user. Just remember to buy extra tips or it won’t actually work.
Generally speaking, we should all be eating a variety of nutrient-dense food and/or taking vitamins regularly to build our immune systems. But good intentions have a way of falling by the wayside, and when you’re deathly ill, you might find yourself playing catch-up. I love the gummy vitamins from VitaFive, and they also have a few versions made especially for kids. The Immune Pack has vitamins C and D3, while the Essential Pack has multivitamins and an omega 3. That should all help your little ones get healthy and hopefully stay that way so they can fight off the next round of germs that come their way.
This one’s for you, moms. Look, your sick kid is going to be all over you, and when they’re sad, you’ll kiss away their tears, sometimes literally. That’s a mom’s job, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But if I’m handling dirty tissues or about to prepare food for myself or my other still-healthy child, I am going to squirt some Purell in my hands to make sure the germs don’t keep on spreading. Yes, they’re throughout the house already, but I have no interest in helping them along.
Yes, movies definitely count as sick-day essentials, because watching movies is about all a very sick child will want to do—and sometimes all a sick child can do. Make sure your DVD library is well stocked, or subscribe to a service like Amazon Video to stream whichever kiddie flicks your little one is craving at that moment. (FYI, you can try it out for 30 days for free.) I have to admit, this is my favorite part of any sick day. It’s a chance to snuggle up with and comfort my miserable baby—plus, I get to give my child a proper pop-culture education without worrying about screen time. After all, on sick days, any amount of screen time is A-OK.
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