Being the caregiver for a sick child can be challenging. Children react to being sick and homebound in different ways; some are fidgety and active; others may be whiney, tearful, needy, extra emotional, calmer than normal, or just generally out of sorts. Children tend to act the way they feel. When they are under the weather, they are away from regular routines and the people they see every day at child care or school. Some get restless being in the same indoor environment, without fresh air for an extended period. Many children tend to want to be cuddled, held, or entertained. Often, they don’t know what to do with themselves. They may feel hungry but not want to eat, or feel tired but not want to sleep. Mostly, they want to stay closely connected to us. At the same time, as parents, we may be worried about missing a day of work and the consequences of what we will be coming back to. This can be a formula for a bad day!
Believe it or not, in spite of this, some parents find that their favorite times with their children were when they were mildly ill; sick enough to stay home from child care or school, but not so sick that they were totally confined to lying in bed. These days can turn out to be close, cuddly times with lots of opportunities to read books, play board games, and talk.
We might start out a sick day with the idea that we will take advantage of the “down” time and use part of the day to catch up on housework, job-related work or family responsibilities. But then we realize that maybe it’s best to postpone the chores, and enjoy the special time with our child. It is important to remember that we can never get this day back.
So we decide to maximize the time with our child, but after reading books, playing with Legos, and watching a movie, we might think . . . “Now what?” Below are some tips for spending quality time with your housebound child:
Plan your Child’s Play Space
If he/she needs to stay calm, plan activities that can be done in bed, on a couch, or perhaps create a cozy corner on the floor:
• Plan activities that can be done lying down or in a sitting position that do not require a table. Some examples include: magnetic letters or shapes on a metal cookie sheet, paper dolls, sewing cards, or using a laptop computer.
• Cozy corners and tents: A child might need to be calm or rest but that does not necessitate staying in bed. Furthermore, a child who has been home for awhile needs different environments. A cozy corner or a tent can be created in any room of your home with pillows, blankets, or sleeping bags. You might lie down and read to your child, make up stories together, or draw.
• Spend time in different rooms or, if the weather and your child’s health permits, outside. This helps break up the monotony.
Plan Open-Ended Activities
Time spent alone with your child affords magical moments of shared discovery. Open-ended activities encourage your child’s creativity. When your child is ill, his/her attention span is typically shorter than usual. It’s best to plan activities that can be easily interrupted and returned to at another time. Also, this makes it possible for children to drift off to nap for a bit.
- Photo albums: Being home presents a terrific opportunity to sit with your child and look at photos, sharing memories and sorting the photos or putting them into hard copy or digital albums.
- Sensory doughs: If your child is well enough to do quiet table activities, playing with playdough can be a relaxing, soothing time. You can make the playdough or involve your child depending on how she feels. You can also purchase it. If you make it, it is great to make copious amounts. Warm playdough that smells good can be quite inviting. A child can help pour, stir, and mix colors, then play with it on a baking sheet. A simple playdough recipe is:
- Mix 1 cup flour, 1 cup warm water with food coloring, two teaspoons cream of tartar, one teaspoon oil, and 1/4 cup salt. Stir over medium heat. Remove and knead until smooth.
- Look at magazines together (sports, cars, food, etc). Cut out photos, glue them on paper, and write what your child says about them. Make cards, draw with pencils, crayons, or felt-tip pens. Display the creations around the house.
- Technology: Listen to stories or music on CDs or use a tape recorder to record yourselves singing or telling stories. Watch amusing movies, or play games on the computer together.
When your child is not feeling well, she often doesn’t care to eat; however, children are more inclined to eat when they’ve prepared the foods. Below are a few suggestions that children might enjoy making if they are feeling well enough. Make sure what you are preparing fits your doctor’s guidelines for what to eat with this illness. Make hand washing a part of the food preparation.
- Blender shakes: This is fun for most children but especially for those who do not feel like eating. Gather favorite fruits, juice, water, milk, or frozen yogurt to make shakes.
- Frozen juice pops: Fill ice cube trays with orange or other juice and place a stick in each cube as it begins to freeze.
- Make soup: Children like to wash, peel, and cut vegetables. Vegetable soup provides many nutrients and is easy to eat, even with a sore throat. And don’t forget the healing power of chicken soup. Most children love it with lots and lots of noodles.