Winter flu and cold season may soon be upon us! While we all hope that our children will be strong, happy, and healthy, it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared for those times when you may be forced to amuse a sick child or two. The more prepared you are, the less stressful this time can be for everyone involved.
Sick Children Belong in Bed
First off, set some basic rules. Will you keep your sick child in bed? This used to be standard procedure! Sick people should not get out of bed! They should not take their germs to work or preschool and infect others. Some parents don’t try to keep their sick child in bed, because they think he will be bored. But if you have more than one child, it really is the best option. The sick child should stay in bed, eat in bed, sleep in his bed, and then he is less likely to infect the rest of the family.
Keep to the Regular Routine
Secondly, try to stick to your child’s regular routine as much as possible. Have breakfast, snack, lunch, and dinner at the usual times, unless of course, your child is vomiting and shouldn’t eat anything. Insist on nap time. Your child won’t be able to go outside to play, but otherwise, you can have free play times, table games (which can also be done in bed) and story time, calendar time… whatever is part of your child’s normal day, whenever practical. The young child can get very agitated if his routine is altered! He’s already not feeling well, so help him out by keeping his sick day as normal as possible.
Fill a Sick Day Box
Finally, start to gather some unique, interesting quiet games and activities NOW. Keep these toys out of sight, and bring them out only on sick days. What follows are some suggestions.
1) Flannel Board stories. You can buy flannel/felt board sets, or make them yourself. If you have an older child, he or she can make their own felt characters for a story. Basically, you need to wrap a board with flannel, then cut out shapes from felt. The felt sticks to the flannel. Preschool and Sunday School Teachers have been using flannel boards to tell stories for ages! You can use paper figures cut from catalogs or magazines, and they will stick to the flannel board if you glue a square of felt to the back. Encourage your child to make up stories and use the felt shapes to tell them. This is great if you have two or more children, as well.
2) Paper Dolls. This is more of a girly-game, and paper dolls aren’t as popular as they once were. When you do find a pretty paper doll set, buy it and save it for the next time your little one needs to stay in bed. Take some time, and play with her, especially if she needs help cutting out the outfits. Some paper dolls now have magnetic outfits and come already punched out! In my store, you’ll find a zoo playset that may be appropriate for a boy, as well.
3) Colorforms. This is a classic toy of vinyl pieces that stick to a clean surface. They can also be fun in the car, as they stick to clean windows, but when the windows are cold the pieces will fall off. Younger children can create interesting designs and shapes. Older children may use the pieces to tell stories, much like flannel boards. There are a variety of Colorforms playsets, including Go, Diego Go!, and Thomas & Friends.
4) Sticky Wicks. These toys are like wax-coated pipe cleaners. They bend and stick and hold together, without glue. They are quiet, clean, ultimately reuseable, and a bit out of the ordinary. Keep them for special occasions – to keep them fun. Use them ONLY for bed-sick children, or maybe if you have to be on a plane or long car trip. There are a wide variety of wikki stix sets – you can get them for shapes, numbers, letters, or just a basic “make up your own game” set. Children will play with these for hours! But they are not recommended for under threes.
5) Tub Toys: Your child may enjoy a bath every day while he’s sick. Putting him in a tub of warm water can help loosen chest congestion, sooth irritated skin rashes, and cool down a fever. He probably has a bunch of tub toys already, but for those sick days, maybe you can bring out something extra special. In my store, I have searched through Amazon.com for a number of unique bath toys that may not be readily available in your local store, including a bathtub symphony, a set of chutes and wheels to create his own water cascade, a tub garden and a floating city. Other alternatives for tub play – measuring spoons and cups, funnels, empty containers, bathtub crayons, and bubble bath.
6) Books on tape. If you still have a cassette tape player, books on tape are a great bedtime activity. Your child can look at book after book, turning the pages when a bell on the tape tells him to. Now there are story books that come with CDs, but I haven’t yet found a child-friendly CD player that I’d recommend. You can also make your own audio books. Get a cassette recorder, some library books, and a bell (or any noise maker, even a New Year’s party horn, or bang two spoons together), and read the story into the microphone. Your child will love to listen to the story again and again – a lot more than you’d feel like reading it to him! For this, chose really special books. While I love Walt Disney cartoons, I find that the Disney story books tend to be very silly. Find classic books on tape, like Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel.
7) Special Movies: I’m not a big fan of letting preschoolers watch endless hours of television, but when they are sick, it can be a great tool. Depending on how irritable your child is, he may not be interested in watching the same-old, same-old shows. You could run out to rent something new, but that’s not easy if you’re stuck at home with a sick child! And then you have to return it tomorrow… so I’ve collected several interesting DVDs or Videos that may not be part of your normal repertoire. One is a collection of children’s classic tales in cartoon, that is eight hours long! If your child only ever sees this video when he’s sick in bed, he may enjoy it for years.
Here are some other quiet activities, perhaps when your child is starting to feel better, but still can’t go outside to play:
9) Playdough. Buy some new, or make up a batch. Buy a new playdough toy, or get out your rolling pin, cookie cutters, toy dishes, measuring cups and spoons, and whatever else you can think of. If you supervise, even a pair of children’s safety scissors can be great fun.
10) Scissors. You must supervise! And if your child has pretty hair, pin it up out of reach! Maybe put a hat on your child. For some unexplained reason, most children try to cut their hair in the preschool years. I like to set my preschooler inside a large cardboard box, hand her my junk mail, and a pair of children’s safety scissors. She will cut and snip for a long time, and when she’s done, all the little bits of paper remain inside the box! You can just let your child sit at the table. Save your junk mail for this. Young toddlers can just practice cutting. As your child develops coordination, you can make solid black lines on the junk mail with a sharpie marker and have him try to cut on the line. Later, he can cut out pictures from the advertisements in the Sunday paper.
11) Sensory play. Get a small children’s splash pool (3 ft in diameter) and fill it with about 30 lbs of dry rice. You can color the rice or leave it white. Give your child measuring cups, spoons, funnels, toy cars and boats, etc, and let him play and play. Some rice may get on the carpet, but it vacuums up easily.
12) Art activities. Give your child a new box of markers, or crayons. Get a big sheet of paper, or a coloring book, or even more junk mail. Sit and color with him, or ask him to make a special picture you can send to his grandmother. Depending on the age and ability of the child, you might give him more scraps, some scissors, ribbons, glue, sequins, and any doodads you can find, and let him make a big, beautiful, sticky collage.
Don’t forget to celebrate your child’s “all better” day! We spend extra time with a sick child, and buy special games, or prepare special foods… and the child feels very special! He may not want to lose that! So, when he is finally well enough to play outside, make sure he’s still special. Put away the sick games, and do something fun – but not too strenuous, as he may not be quite one-hundred percent yet. Maybe make a trip to the library, or play in the sandbox with a friend. You might make a “got well cake” with candles!
Then, depending on how many days your child was ill, you might want to send him to a neighbor’s house or a drop-in day care for a few hours, and go get yourself a massage. You deserve it.
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