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The sound of a single cough or sniffle is enough to make any parent panic. No matter how clean you keep your household or your children's hands, they're going to get sick sooner or later. So here are some ideas to help you prepare for that day, tips on sanitation and activity ideas for helping to keep that sick child happy and comfortable.
Keep kids out of the kitchen
At the first sign of illness, you should institute a closed-kitchen policy. Not only is the kitchen one of the germiest places in the house and a veritable breeding ground for bacteria, it's also where all your food is prepared, which means a good chance of cross-infection if germy fingers are allowed to poke around. Sanitize your kitchen surfaces frequently, especially the kitchen sink and refrigerator door handle.
Let them cuddle in your bed
Getting to play, read, or watch movies from Mom and Dad's bed will make the sick day more fun for your child and maybe give you a chance to fold some laundry or tidy the bathroom.
While you might be trying (and failing) to put a little distance between yourself and your child's coughing and sneezing, there's actually no reason not to let her curl up in your bed. "No one's sure why," says Dr. Charles Gerba, Ph.D., "but there's only a one-in-a-thousand chance of contracting germs from a blanket."
Keep a supply of disinfectants on hand
When you have babies or small children in the house, everything becomes a chew toy, which means you'll be doing a lot of disinfecting to keep them safe. The best disinfectants for use around children have hydrogen peroxide as their active ingredient, rather than bleach, because it breaks down on contact with air and water and leaves no harmful residue behind.
Once a cold or other illness has set in, however, it's best to leave toys be until the child is healthy or on the mend. The toys will be re-infected each time they're played with, and handling them will put you at greater risk of catching whatever your child has.
Create a sick day kit
Set aside a few toys and necessities that will be useful on a sick day. Include things such as hand sanitizer, wipes, a disposable diaper-changing pad, extra diapers, cans of soup, ginger ale, jello and activity books. You could even get a little doctor kit your child only gets to use when she's sick, which might give her something to look forward to when she's feeling miserable.
When they're sick, tired and uncomfortable, kids will grow bored and restless quickly, so try to set up an activity rotation so there's always something new to do when they're tired of the current activity. Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes depending on the activity, and every time the timer goes off, switch to something new. Your child will be more patient when she realizes she gets to do something different in just a few minutes.
Run hot loads of laundry
It's always a good policy to wash your clothes at the warmest possible temperature for their color and material, but during sick days it's more crucial than ever before. Whites withstand the hotter temperatures better than colored clothes, so add a colorfast, non-chlorine bleach to dark loads to keep them from fading. For extra protection, wash your sick children's clothes separately from the rest and sanitize the washer between cycles by running an empty, hot cycle with bleach.
Tell them it's OK not to share
"Viruses and bacteria can survive anywhere from one hour to a few days on a moist surface," notes Dr. Harley Rotbart, M.D. and author of "Germ Proof Your Kids". So it's best to keep your kids from sharing their favorite toys if one of them gets sick.
Call in the reinforcements
The last thing you'll want to do is expose other people to your child's infection, but sometimes it becomes necessary when you're out of clean dishes, can't see the living room floor, or feel like declaring the bathroom a disaster area. A little break can do wonders for your sanity.
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