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Looking after your child when they’re poorly

Every child will feel unwell at some point. Here are some tips on keeping them healthy – and getting them through those poorly spells.

Wee ones tend to get more minor illnesses such as coughs, colds and runny noses, than older children and adults do because their immune systems are still developing. So the occasional bout of illness is to be expected. Healthy nutritious food, regular physical activity, fresh air and a few simple hygiene measures can help to keep them healthy and will prevent many common illnesses.

Signs your child may be poorly

You’re the best judge of whether your child isn’t their normal self and is unwell, so if you think they’re ill, even if you’re not sure what’s wrong, don’t hesitate to seek medical advice. Call your GP or NHS 24 on 111, or call 999 in an emergency.

A classic sign of illness is a fever. Your child may have one if they’re flushed or feel hot and sweaty, or if their temperature is over 38°C or 100.4°F measured with a thermometer. You can use a digital, non-breakable one – there’s one in the Baby Box. Read on to find out how to use it.

Other symptoms that your child is under the weather could include a runny nose, coughs and sneezes, a rash, sleeping more, lack of appetite, increased whining, clinginess and listlessness. If your child’s temperature doesn’t stop them from playing and eating normally, there may not be anything to get too worried about.

You can find out more about what to do if your child has cold or flu symptoms on the NHS Inform website.

The Right Care Right Place page on the NHS Inform website has information on how to get the care you need quickly, safely and as close to home as possible.

How to check your child’s temperature

If you feel your baby is hot, it’s best to check their temperature with a thermometer. This short video shows you how to take your baby’s temperature using the under arm thermometer that comes in the Baby Box.

To take your baby’s temperature:

  1. Place the baby down safely and put the thermometer in their armpit.
  2. Gently, but firmly, hold their arm against the body to keep the thermometer in place for 80-120 seconds (always follow the instructions that come with the thermometer for the timing).
  3. The display on the thermometer will then show your child’s temperature.

A normal temperature for babies is about 36.4C but this can vary. A high temperature in children is usually considered 37.5C and above. If your baby has a temperature greater than 38C or you’re worried they’re ill, phone your GP or visit NHS Inform urgently.

This page on NHS Inform explains what to do if your baby has a temperature or if you’re worried that your baby is ill.

Caring for an ill child

Kids are usually tired and irritable when they’re ill, so be patient and expect them to be more demanding.

They may want to sleep more, so let them stay in bed if they ask. They’ll probably want you around, so be prepared to spend time reading and watching TV together. Breastfed children may wish to breastfeed more often at this time.

Keep things familiar and low-key – now is not the time to change routines. If they’re hungry, give them something light to eat and give them plenty to drink (drinking is more important than eating when they’re ill). Once they’re feeling better, they can go outside if the weather is fine but keep them indoors if it’s cold, damp or foggy.

Preventing illness

Washing hands properly will help protect you and your child from bugs and other illnesses.

  • Wash hands before eating, after going to the toilet or after playing with pets and after being outside.
  • Let them watch you washing your hands. Tots like to copy what you do.
  • Show them how to wash their hands and in between their fingers, using soap and water.
  • Help them by lifting them up to the basin or use a handy step-up stool.
  • Make it fun by singing a rhyme or song – we should all wash our hands for the time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice.

Last updated: 20 Dec, 2022