Caring for a sick toddler is one of the most challenging parts of parenthood. It is heartbreaking to see your lively, happy child feeling grumpy and uncomfortable because of a cold or flu.
If you’re worried about what to do when your child gets sick, you may be tempted to ask other parents for advice. Unless those parents are medical professionals, it’s better to contact the child’s pediatrician when you are concerned about their health.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to recognize a sick toddler , what to feed a sick child, and more tips on what to do when your child gets sick.
How to Tell If You Have a Sick Toddler
You may have good reason to be suspicious when an older child is fine one day and suddenly too sick to attend school the next. Learning how to fake illness is practically a rite of passage for teens. However, when a toddler shows signs of illness, the best response is to take their complaints seriously.
Asking leading questions can be helpful if your child has adequate communication skills, but you may have to rely on your own observations to get a full picture of your toddler’s sickness. No one knows your child better than you — if you suspect they are coming down with something, they probably are.
Take these steps to gather more information:
- Take the child’s temperature (most pediatricians consider temperatures over 100.4 a true fever)
- Watch for signs of appetite loss
- Look inside the child’s throat for signs of redness or the appearance of white bumps
- Listen carefully to the child’s complaints
Most illnesses can be treated with rest, over-the-counter medications, the right foods, hydration, and plenty of extra snuggles from Mom and Dad. As a rule, there is no need to call your pediatrician if your generally healthy child is having typical cold or flu symptoms.
However, call your pediatrician immediately if:
- A fever rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit or persists for more than 24 hours
- Your child is lethargic
- Your child is experiencing pain that makes them cry
- There is excessive vomiting or vomiting that contains blood or dark green bile
- Wheezing or trouble breathing develops
- Your child shows signs of dehydration
- Your child experienced a head injury before getting ill
- Your child has underlying health conditions
Note: Any signs of a rash should be taken seriously, especially if your toddler also has a fever. Try to isolate your child, yourself, and other family members until your doctor can determine whether your toddler has an infectious disease like chicken pox.
What to Feed a Sick Toddler
When figuring out what to do when your child gets sick, most parents naturally want to offer comfort. Feeding someone is one way humans comfort one another, but appetite loss can make it even more challenging to keep a sick toddler nourished and hydrated. And to make matters worse, what to feed sick kids can vary according to what symptoms they’re experiencing.
In general, avoid foods that are hard for your child to digest. Instead, focus on small portions of light, appealing items that will spark their interest. Don’t worry about full meals unless your child has the appetite to eat them. Instead, encourage them to snack on healthy goodies at regular intervals.
What to Feed a Child with a Fever
One of the biggest concerns about young children getting sick is their high risk of dehydration. A fever is the body’s natural reaction to illness, and it helps the body fight infection by activating the immune system. Mild fevers do not necessarily require treatment, but dehydration is a concern if a fever is accompanied by sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Don’t expect a toddler to chug large amounts of water or electrolyte drinks if they’re not feeling well. Encourage small sips of liquids to stay hydrated. The list of what to feed a child with a fever includes these nourishing foods:
- Yogurt with live cultures
- Water-packed veggies, like cucumbers and asparagus
- Fruit smoothies
- Warm herbal tea (children over 12 months can have a small amount of honey in their tea)
- Juicy fruits like watermelon, berries, and pineapple
- Milk, including nut milks
- Warm broth
Simple soups with a clear broth are high on the list of what to feed a toddler with a fever. However, avoid soups with a heavy cream base or cruciferous vegetables, which can be hard for toddlers to digest.
What to Feed a Toddler with a Cold
Many people believe that dairy foods should be avoided when you have a cold. Dairy can thicken mucus, which could make it more difficult to expel, but it does not increase mucus production. If your sick toddler wants dairy foods, allow them in limited amounts.
Any foods that boost the immune system are good options, including:
- Foods rich in vitamin A, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes, apricots, and red bell peppers
- Chicken soup with vegetables
- Warm drinks like herbal tea, warm milk, or broth
- Foods rich in zinc, such as beef, pork, chickpeas, cashews, and kidney beans
A bad cold can dull taste buds and cause a lack of appetite. Don’t be surprised if your toddler is especially picky while they’re under the weather. However, don’t force them to eat foods they don’t want during this time. Also, avoid introducing new foods while your child is sick as you could potentially miss the signs of an allergic reaction.
What to Feed a Toddler with a Sore Throat
Soft foods are the obvious choice when your young child has a sore throat. You may be concerned about giving your child all the nutrition they need while they’re sick, but with a little creativity, you can still provide a wide range of healthy foods without irritating delicate throat tissues.
Consider these options:
- Warm oatmeal or other cooked cereal
- Soft-cooked vegetables
- Fruit and veggie smoothies
- Scrambled eggs
- Gelatin desserts
- Mashed potatoes
- Rice, especially brown rice
- Cooked pasta, including macaroni and cheese
Help keep your toddler hydrated with plenty of warm liquids to soothe their throat. Avoid acidic juices and opt for apple juice or grape juice instead.
What to Feed a Child with a Stomach Bug
No matter your age, no one feels like eating when they are sick with vomiting and diarrhea. In fact, eating solid food is not necessarily recommended when symptoms are at their peak. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends letting a child’s tummy rest and focusing on clear fluids until symptoms have improved.
Encourage your child to take sips of water and warm liquids like broth. Small bites of gelatin or sucking on ice pops is also recommended. Beware of these signs of dehydration:
- No tears while crying
- Dry lips and tongue
- Sunken eyes or dark circles under the eyes
- Dry, wrinkled-looking skin
- Fewer than six wet diapers in a day (infants) or no urination for eight hours (toddlers)
- Rapid or deep breathing
Call your pediatrician if signs of dehydration develop. It was once recommended to eat bland foods like rice and bananas after recovering from a stomach bug. Today, the AAP recommends resuming a normal diet once your child is feeling better and is properly hydrated.
Helping a Sick Toddler Who Won’t Eat
It’s natural for parents to fuss and worry when their toddler won’t eat. However, just keep in mind that loss of appetite is normal for anyone who is sick — including children. When deciding what to feed a toddler with a fever or a cold, focus on hydration. As long as the child stays hydrated, it’s okay if they don’t eat much for a day or so. However, call your pediatrician if their appetite does not begin to increase after 24 hours.
The best food for sick toddlers who don’t want to eat is (almost) anything they request. Naturally you should avoid greasy, spicy, or sugar-laden foods, but aside from those, let them eat whatever they are most interested in.
You may be able to encourage more interest in eating by following these tips:
- Serve extra small portions, as too much food on the plate can look unappetizing after illness
- Limit distractions like watching television or playing on a device
- Let them help with meal planning or food prep if they are well enough
- Use special plates and colorful cups or straws to make mealtime more fun
Lastly, don’t pressure your child to eat. They may be feeling extra sensitive and could get discouraged about mealtimes. Their appetite and eating schedule will likely return in a few days. If not, call your pediatrician for additional guidance.
Soothing a Sick Baby Is Not Easy — Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Parenting is never easy, but it’s even harder when your sweet little one doesn’t feel well. Rest assured — you’re not the only mom or dad with questions about what to do when your child gets sick. Having another person in the home who is experienced in childcare is a huge help during stressful times.
Au pairs are trained, experienced childcare providers who understand how important it is that kids get the right kind of care when they have a cold or the flu.
Hiring an au pair is a smart move when one of your children is sick. An au pair can supervise siblings, including getting them to and from school, while you focus on caring for your sick child. If both parents are employed and must leave home to work, the au pair can provide much-needed support while they are gone.
Go Au Pair hires only experienced caregivers with extensive histories. Find an au pair today!