When your kids are sick, you’re on duty. You wipe runny noses, comfort coughs, let them nap in your bed. That means lots of close contact in a closed environment. So how can you keep yourself from catching the same bug? These six tips will help you stay well while you’re caring for a child with the flu.
1. Get yourself immunized
The seasonal flu shot offers parents the best protection against catching the flu from their kids. But it takes two weeks to take full effect, so be sure to get immunized at the start of flu season (before your child comes home coughing, aching, and highly contagious).
2. Show your kid where coughs go
Coughing politely into your hand? That’s so last century. Teach your child to cough into his arm or into a tissue. Model this behavior yourself to help him catch on. If he’s too young to control his coughs, be sure to stay out of the line of fire by turning your head when he hacks, especially if you’re within a few feet of him. “Young kids secrete more virus particles than an adult, because their immune systems are not as strong,” says Pierre Lebel, MD, a microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist at McGill University.
3. Wash your hands all day long
Be a hand-washing machine. Wash your hands after wiping your sick child’s nose, after handling her tissues, after taking away her lunch or after picking up her toys. “We touch our faces many time per hour and don’t know it,” says Dr. Lebel. Be sure to scrub all areas of your hands, including between your fingers. Turn the tap off using a paper towel or your elbow, not your hand (or you could contaminate yourself all over again).
4. Clean, clean, clean
Flu viruses can linger on doorknobs, faucets, cupboard handles and toys for anywhere from two hours to two days. Clean any surfaces that may have been touched by your flu-infested child. Any household soap or disinfectant will do. These products dilute the virus so it’s less potent. For runny noses and coughs, using “anti-viral” tissues can also make a difference.
5. Limit close contact
Of course you want to dole out lots of hugs when your child is feeling miserable. But be aware that the more you touch her, the more you’re at risk for catching her bug. “As cute as your little baby is, if someone’s sick, don’t kiss them on the mouth,” says family physician Jonathan Kerr, MD. When you’re soothing your sick child, try stroking her hair or rubbing her back instead of smooching her face.
6. Care for yourself, not just your kid
Looking after a kid who’s unwell often means you’re up for hours in the night, and grabbing quick snacks when you can. But in order for you to fight the flu effectively, you need to eat nutritious meals and get plenty of rest and exercise. Try to make sure you don’t shortchange your own needs. Remind yourself that you’re a much better parent when you’re in the pink.
If you’re parenting with a partner, take turns on call, which can reduce your chances of getting the disease by half, says Dr Lebel. This will also give you a chance to rest and tend to your own needs.