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January 4, 2018
It’s sick season. That means, in pediatrician offices across the country, there are lots of congested, coughing kids (and lots of worried parents). I’ve compiled some parenting tips on how to get through the sick season with your kids.
I’ve officially joined the ranks of all those snot-covered, sleep-deprived moms and dads this month (I’ve been part of the toddler tantrum crew for months –– for help on those, get our free guide here). Four weeks ago, my littlest came down with Croup and spent three nights hacking away like a baby seal. I came home from work to her lying on the rug in my living room, curled up in a tiny ball, clutching a stuffed animal while my husband rubbed her back. Then, New Year’s Day, she wound up in Urgent Care after waking from a nap with a 103 fever and labored breathing, bless her little heart.
Needless to say, the mama inside me outweighed my medical degree both of those evenings. I had to force my mind to “think like a pediatrician.” I also had to take a deep breath and try NOT to think about all the work I would inevitably miss, the wasted childcare dollars I would no doubt forfeit and the sleepless nights I was bound to encounter before she recovered from her respiratory illness.
It made me think, as I reminded myself to stay objective, of all the sick kid parenting pearls I try to share with my patients’ parents in clinic week after week, but especially during sick season:
If you are worried about your child, call someone. Make an appointment. Get them in front of a medical professional. You know your kid best so, if they seem off to you, listen to that little voice inside your head telling you to take action. Pediatricians aren’t irritated when a parent wants their child to be seen “just to be sure everything is okay.” Actually, we would much rather that than the alternative – a serious condition gone unchecked. Kids tend to rally well at first with sickness but then can crash pretty fast. It’s better to get the parenting tips you need early on so you don’t get to a more critical point.
If you’re a new parent, that may mean you call as soon as your child gets a small cough. No problem. Your doctor or their nurse can guide you through what to expect and what to do- consider it your sick kid mini-education. As you get more and more experienced, you’ll gain confidence, you’ll know the basic ways to handle minor illnesses and you likely won’t need as much assistance.
Whenever possible, you want a medical provider caring for your child who really knows their stuff – someone trained specifically in pediatrics (obviously, if you are on vacation or in an emergency situation, that’s not always realistic). When you do have a choice, choose pediatric-trained providers so they can get the most accurate medical history possible and can provide the most up-to-date care.
If your child has had a fever for one day or for five days, those are completely different situations, each of which triggers different levels of testing and medical interventions, depending on age. As I sat in the urgent care clinic with my daughter last week and watched a practitioner shrug a little when I said she had just developed her fever, it was tempting to try to sell how bad her illness was. Sometimes, I know, it feels like elaborating a tiny bit to get the attention of medical providers will help when it comes to a sick kid, but that can backfire. You don’t want your child to have extra bloodwork, imaging (X-rays, etc) or medications when they don’t need them. It can lead to unnecessary and sometimes harmful side effects and even hospitalizations.
I cannot count the number of times someone has brought their febrile child into my office, completely miserable, so that I can see how sick they really are. No fever-reducers on board, the poor kids and their parents must have had a horrible time on their car ride over to clinic. But there’s no need to show us your child at their worst. It’s fine to give your son or daughter acetaminophen or ibuprofen (these medications can be age- and condition-dependent – check with your health professional if you’re not sure) before your doctor’s visit. In fact, the best way for medical professionals to accurately assess how your child is doing can be to see them WITHOUT THE FEVER when possible, since they sometimes look worse than they actually are when febrile.
Sometimes, a parent will seem disappointed when I tell them their child has an upper respiratory infection (aka a cold) and doesn’t need antibiotics. Remember, it’s a GOOD thing if there isn’t a need for extra medicine. You don’t want antibiotics unless you really need them.
Every drug has side effects and, if we give antibiotics for colds, the medication:
It’s hard to wait out a viral illness, letting the storm pass until the sun comes out again, but it’s worth it to concentrate on comfort care if your doctor prescribes it versus fighting for an unnecessary medicine.
When we see you in the office, we’re catching your child at a moment in time. We hear about what has happened so far and we base our diagnosis on our exam that day. It’s one data point. Often, though, an illness can change within hours or days and, without a crystal ball, it’s impossible to predict which direction a sickness will go. It’s not surprising to us when we need to schedule a re-check appointment to make sure things are improved or when a parent calls us back to say a child is still sick. That’s why we give so many contingency after-visit instructions. Most of the time, we can solve an issue with one evaluation but it can take a bit more complex problem-solving with multiple visits at other times.
Part of my job as a pediatrician is to make sure I translate all the medicalese for my patients and their parents, assuring they leave with a solid understanding of what’s wrong with their child and what they can expect as they recover. I know it is sometimes terrifying (or sometimes just super inconvenient) to have a sick kid and that parents need answers and explanations. I’m used to it. ALL doctors are. So, ask away. Clarify. Pull out the list of worries. Let us know the underlying issues (like, “When will my child be better and when will I be able to go back to work?”). We’re all ears and, in the end, it’s easier for all of us to be on the same page from the get-go than to let frustration or confusion play a role in your child’s illness.
I’m not gonna lie – having sick kids is one of the most challenging parts of modern parenting. The schedule re-arranging, the miserable little one, the scary unknowns of illness – it all adds up. Remember, pediatricians know how hard it is to care for sick children (I do it myself all the time!) and we want your child to get better as fast as possible, too. Access the resources you have, get the answers you need. Above all, follow your gut – if you’re worried, get help (or just peace of mind). ’Tis the season for sickies and sickness and you’re not alone in just checking to make sure everything is alright.
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