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At home sick - without TV!

Published on: February 01, 2010

Thanks to the H1N1 virus, most schools have a zero-tolerance policy for any cold or flu symptoms exhibited by students. Sick kidThat could make for a lot more “sick days” for kids who aren’t feeling all that sick! What to do when your child has really minor symptoms — low-grade fever, runny nose or nasty cough — and still feels good enough to bounce off the walls? Turning on the TV is all too easy, but there are ways to avoid those sick-day SpongeBob marathons.

Have a plan

Now more than ever, it helps a lot to be prepared. Families with a stay-at-home parent have one obstacle covered; finding care for the little sickie can be the toughest part. But once you figure that out, you can turn to finding ways to keep your semi-sick child occupied.

Most pediatricians agree: Television is extremely overused for keeping convalescing kids occupied. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of combined screen time per day — even sick days! Though it’s tough for busy parents, spending time with your sick kid is ideal; in most families, there will be times when a child will have to entertain herself. Books, of course, are the obvious solution, but if you don’t have a “reader,” or your child is just too whiny to read, you’ll need a few ideas.

Create a ‘sick-day kit’

Pack a box with things your child does not play with on a regular basis. Novelty is the key! Items don’t have to be expensive — just out of the ordinary. Start with books, then toss in stickers, paper dolls, origami supplies, puzzle books and a deck of cards. One Klutz craft book (try its “Chicken Socks” line for 4- to 8-year-olds) can entertain a child for hours.

Craft projects are wonderful time consumers, too. One great source for ideas is, which has lots of simple projects that can be made with everyday household items — everything from plastic-spoon puppets to beads made from magazine pages.
And don’t forget about schoolwork! If you can contact your child’s teacher, do so, and arrange to pick up any worksheets or books that might be needed. This might not be an issue for the 6-year-old, but it could help keep a third-grader from falling behind.

Other options

It didn’t take H1N1 for Seattle mom Anna McCartney to become adept at entertaining a “not so sick” child stuck at home. Her 8-year-old son has an immune deficiency disorder and misses a lot of school. “If he is really sick and miserable, all bets are off,” says McCartney, who puts TV limits on hold for the worst illnesses, but tightens them up for mild cases.

“I don’t want him watching eight hours of SpongeBob, but if he wants to watch a PBS documentary, I’m all over that idea. Same with video games. Mindless hours of shooting zombies is not OK. Something like ‘The Oregon Trail’ or ‘Sim City’ — where you have to do a lot of reading, planning and thinking — that’s good.”

McCartney likes the game “Professor Layton and the Curious Village” for her son’s Nintendo DS. “It’s just a bunch of logic puzzles; he thinks he’s playing a computer game, but he’s actually doing some serious thinking!”
When McCartney has the time to play, too, she turns to board games. “Again, don’t play something dumb; do something that requires thinking, something with strategy or math — make the kid be the banker in Monopoly!” She also found that “a couple of new, really complicated Lego models” kept two feverish but otherwise healthy 8-year-old boys occupied for nearly eight hours, and that pulling out a new coloring book or puzzle works wonders for her 5-year-old daughter.

If weather allows, and her son is up to it, McCartney likes to augment the quiet play with outdoors time.
“I think that some fresh air and sunshine is not a bad thing, if you have a mildly sick child,” McCartney says. “Just figure out places where you can be outside without infecting others.”

McCartney’s daughter loves to make a fort in the living room. “She puts blankets over chairs and hangs out with her stuffed animals underneath,” says McCartney. “Or if you have a small tent, pitch it in the house. Let the kid fill it up with toys, books, etc., and have a campout.”

Since her son misses so much school, keeping up with class work is essential. “Find out what they are doing at school and see if you can also do it at home,” recommends McCartney. “If they are practicing weights and measures, get out your kitchen scale and compare weights of things. If they are learning fractions, cut up a pizza and ask [your sick child] fraction questions.

“I also think that people should realize that it’s all right to relax your parenting standards when you have a sick kid,” McCartney says. “A little TV might be OK.”

Andrea Leigh Ptak is a Seattle-area freelance writer and mom.

What to pack in your “sick day” entertainment kit
Remember, novelty is the key; it doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive—just make sure it’s age-appropriate. (Our thanks to Parenting Press’ News for Parents for some of the ideas listed below.)

  • puzzle books like—sudoku, word search, maze, dot-to-dot, etc.
  • sticker books
  • "how-to-draw" books
  • deck of cards with a book on games of solitaire
  • kaleidoscope
  • dry-erase board
  • magnetic or paper dolls
  • stencils, paper and colored pencils
  • magnetic drawing toys
  • hand and finger puppets
  • magnets
  • bead kits

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