It is a fact of life that children in group care get sick. They have increased exposure to other children, and play closely with shared toys, in addition, children have lower resistance to germs than adults.
Unless you're willing to hire a nanny or stay at home yourself you can't avoid illness entirely, however, there are some simple measures you can take to prevent your child from becoming sick and reduce the impact of the illness once it strikes.
How sick is too sick?
The first decision you need to make when your child is ill is whether they are too sick to send to childcare. Many children with a mild illness, such as a cold, can attend childcare without causing harm to themselves or the other children.
However, you should always check your childcare provider's policy on illness before you send your child off for the day. Many providers have clear policies on sick children which should be adhered to, a common example of this is: ‘If your child's nose is running with green or yellow mucous they should be kept home'.
Nothing is more likely to cause friction between care providers and parents than when sick children are sent to care when they should be kept at home so make sure you are very familiar with the policy and stick to it!
It is sensible to have a sick day contingency plan ready for the day your child is too sick to send to childcare. It's a good idea to have an Emergency Childcare plan or back up childcare to manage these situations.
Making sure you're familiar with your childcare provider's policy is step one but ensuring you never pressure your provider to accept your child if they are ill is most important. Remember, that it is the responsibility of the childcare provider’s to maintain a healthy environment for all the other children, staff and families associated with the childcare service and they can’t make exceptions.
Another good habit to get in to is to notify your childcare provider about any illness that occurred the night before. Many children go to bed with mild symptoms and wake up perfectly healthy after a good night's sleep. However, advising your service of any upsets the night before may make them more alert to any additional signs of sickness your child displays during the day.
While it is sometimes okay to send your child off to care with a sniffle there are many occasions when you should keep your little one at home.
When making your decision at the beginning of the day ask yourself these three questions:
- Will my child be well enough to comfortably and happily participate in the activities of the day?
- Will my child's care provider be able to care for my child without it affecting their ability to look after the other children?
- Will my child pass the illness on to their playmates if I send them in today?
In addition, if your child displays any of the following symptoms you should always keep them at home until you have the all clear from the doctor or until the symptoms lessen and the child seems well enough to return to care:
- A temperature and/or fever accompanied by a behaviour change and other signs of illness such as lethargy, persistent crying or breathing difficulties.
- Signs of severe illness such as uncontrolled coughing, breathing difficulties, wheezing, persistent crying and/or lethargy.
- A respiratory illness such as bronchitis or influenza.
- Uncontrolled diarrhoea.
- Vomiting, once a child has vomited, most doctors recommend that they should not return to childcare for a minimum of 24 hours.
- Any sort of rash, especially when accompanied by a fever or behaviour change. Children with chicken pox can return to childcare on the sixth day after their rash appears. Children with impetigo can return to care 24 hours after starting a course of antibiotics and children with scabies can return to care after they've been treated.
- Mouth sores that cause drooling.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis and yellow discharge from the eye. Your child can return to child care 24 hours after starting a course of antibiotics.
Prevention is better than cure
Preventing the spread of germs is a key part in avoiding the spread of illness. Your childcare provider should have clear policies outlining the steps it takes to encourage good hygiene among the children. However, good hygiene starts in the home and it is worth teaching your child good habits from as early as possible.
Encouraging your child to adopt the habits listed below will definitely slow the spread of germs and will hopefully reduce the likelihood of illness.
- Wash your hands regularly: while most children are taught to wash their hands after going to the toilet, children should also be encouraged to wash their hands when they are dirty, before and after eating, after messy activities and when they do anything which puts them in contact with potentially germy objects such as animals.
- Cover your mouth when coughing: uncontrolled coughing and sneezing quickly spread germs around an area. Children should be taught to cover their coughs with whatever they can, while a tissue might not be handy when the urge to cough comes on, children can cough in to their hands and wash them or in to the crook of their arm or sleeve.
- Avoid close contact with sick people: when someone in the family is sick make sure the above two rules are strictly applied so as to avoid the spread of germs within the family.
A note about colds and ‘flu
Children in childcare are more susceptible to winter colds and ‘flu because they are in close contact with other children on a regular basis. While it might be tempting to dose your little one up with the latest potion available at the pharmacy, it might be more effective to try cuddles, liquids and plenty of bed rest. Research conducted by American think-tank, the Cochrane Library, has recently shown that many of the cold and flu remedies promoted as beneficial for children actually have little or no effect.
The research included a review of devices which change the air in your child's room such as dehumidifiers and vaporisers and found there was no evidence to prove they work.
The researchers also looked at cough medicines containing antihistamines and found that there was no difference in the recovery rate of children treated with the medicine and those that weren't.
The research concludes that winter colds and ‘flu simply have to be put up with and that children who are generally healthy will recover of their own accord in a few days.
In conclusion, the researchers recommend:
- Keeping your child at home to prevent the spread of germs
- Offering plenty of fluids
- Giving your child a paracetamol such as Panadol if there are aches or pains