When your whole family gets sick

Any parent or caregiver will tell you that when the entire family is sick, it feels like no one will ever leave the house again. And while it’s common for an illness to move through a family in stages rather than target everyone at once, it still helps to be prepared and have a plan for when someone is ill.

Curious how to help your family make it through the cold and flu season? Read on for information about common childhood illnesses and tips for getting healthy.

Is they contagious?

Often one of the most frequently asked questions of doctors is “how long will my child be contagious?” And while the answers may vary, many experts say they are contagious even before the onset of the illness, until the fever is gone (which can be anywhere from one to five days, on average).

Caring for your family

When stocking up on supplies, it’s important to remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to medicines. Parents need different medicines than their children, and even children need different doses and types of over-the-counter and prescription medication depending on their age. As soon as the first person in a family shows symptoms, that’s your cue to get to the store and stock up on items like easy-to-prepare food, fluids (especially rehydration products for young children), medicine, tissues, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer. Prepare some grab and go meals that can be easily heated up and served in case you get sick.

Keeping your toddler occupied while they are sick

This can be a tough one, especially if your toddler isn’t spending the majority of their day sleeping. If your child is not well enough to do much of anything, resting on the couch or in bed is the best option. However, if they are alert enough to color, draw, or play with toys, then allowing them to have some free time to be creative is a great way to pass the time. And of course, there’s nothing quite like a special movie on a sick day, especially if the caregiver is also sick.  

Germ-free zone

Disinfecting your house during an illness outbreak can feel like a never-ending job, especially if multiple people in your home are ill. But before you go scrubbing everything in sight, take a deep breath and relax. As long as you are consistent about cleaning key items, you should be able to rid your house of the majority of the germs that cause illnesses. 

  • Focus on the items that matter: Germs live on surfaces and spread to humans through skin contact, so it’s critical you spend your time on the areas most frequently used in your home. When deciding what to clean first, take a look around and determine what the members of your family touch the most. Items and surfaces such as the phone, doorknobs, remote controls, the bathroom (especially faucets and toilet levers), the kitchen sink and table, heavily used surfaces like booster seats or high chairs, electronics like computers, tablets, or phones, favorite toys, stuffed animals, bedding, and towels. Heat is your best friend when it comes to killing viruses. Wash items in hot water and dry on high heat. When symptoms ease up, boil or wash toothbrushes in the dishwasher.
  • Cleaning products: Before you set out to clean, make sure you’re using a disinfectant that works against the viruses you’re targeting. Also consider using paper towels rather than sponges, or disinfectant wipes.
  • Sanitize: All family members should wash their hands frequently and thoroughly before and after eating, after going to the bathroom, and after contact with the sick person. Additionally, adults changing diapers of an ill child need to be diligent about scrubbing their hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizer.
  • Separate and avoid sharing: If possible, keep the sick child or family members away from other people during the duration of the illness. You can try to separate the sick family members from well family members, but this is not always possible and can get quite tedious. Instead, if possible, have them use one bathroom (for just the sick people) and encourage them to wash hands frequently. Avoid sharing drinks, food, or eating utensils and if an adult is sick, they should be careful when preparing food for others. If at all possible, sick adults should avoid this task, but if the primary caregiver or meal preparer is sick, they should use gloves when handling food for others.


If you work outside of the home and your toddler goes to childcare, there’s a good chance they'll be told to stay home if they have a fever, is vomiting, or has diarrhea. They can return to daycare as soon as the fever is gone, the vomiting is over, the stools are no longer explosive and watery, and they feel better. Most experts say if a toddler has a cold without a fever or a dry cough without a fever or chills, it’s safe to send them to daycare.

 About the author:

Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son.

  • “Is Your Child Too Sick for Daycare?” AskDrSears. AskDrSears.com. Retrieved July 11 2017. https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/health-concerns/childhood-illnesses/daycare-how-to-tell-if-your-child-too-sick-to-attend.
  • “Stopping the Spread of Germs at Home, Work, & School.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 19 2015. Retrieved July 11 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/stopgerms.htm. 
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