Understanding Childhood Illness

A guide for parents worried about their child becoming ill

Understanding Childhood Illness

As parents, we’re quite often worrying about one thing or another concerning our children. On top of all of your other responsibilities as a parent, worrying about your child becoming ill can send your mind running.

I remember when I arrived home with my newborn baby, filled with excitement, and how I quickly lost myself in my little newborn baby bubble. I honestly hadn’t thought much about how to respond if my baby became unwell.

My boy was three months old when he faced his first bout of sickness. It was just a cold; however, with him being so young and defenceless, I became very anxious.

Everything turned out fine; after all, it was just a cold. Since then, my boy has become a highly resilient toddler. I have learned to accept that all children are susceptible to illnesses, but the majority of sickness cases clear up by themselves without any medical intervention. However, I understand entirely the fear you may have about your child falling ill. I, like you, wanted reassurance that my child was OK and I didn’t need to do anything more to help him get better.

Illness in Childcare Settings

For most of us, our child starting life at nursery or any other childcare setting may be the first time they have been outside the family bubble. It is also likely to be their first experience of mixing with higher numbers of other children regularly.

For a newly qualified member of staff coming into the early years’ sector, it’s often said that the first year was always the hardest. Recruits will regularly become ill as they try to build up some natural immunity and resilience to common illnesses and infections, which form part and parcel of life at nursery. The same experience can be said for children.

My little boy started nursery when he was six months old when I returned to work following my maternity leave. In the beginning, it seemed like he had a continuous cold and cough that would resurface every 6-8 weeks. I learned to understand that this was a perfectly normal reaction for a child who before now had not been exposed to germs and illnesses.

You are likely to find that your child has a very similar experience when they start at nursery!

Spotting the Signs of Childhood Illness

It makes sense that your child’s routine changes when they become ill, particularly when it comes to sleep. Sickness can negatively affect day time naps and overnight sleep.

Some of the common signs that may indicate your child is unwell are:

  • Sudden changes to their sleep over the last 24 hours
  • Waking/unsettled sleep between 7.00 pm and 10.00 pm
  • Waking early and not settling back to sleep
  • Catnapping (unless your child has a temperature)

Children with a temperature will want to sleep much more, and in these instances, it is advisable to let them sleep. For some older babies and toddlers, falling asleep at a random time is the first sign they may have a temperature.

Administering Medication

I found medical advice reassuring, mainly where symptoms and bouts of illness hadn’t passed after a week, or where symptoms have worsened. However, more often than not, my son’s doctor would tell me that no medication was required and instead to use over-the-counter remedies for pain or discomfort relief.

There is a lot of research into the over-use of antibiotics in children and adults. Using antibiotics unnecessarily could cause immunity to the medication or unwanted side effects. With this in mind, GP’s will be hesitant in prescribing antibiotics for many common childhood illnesses.

However, there are many over-the-counter remedies which I have found helpful to keep in my medicine cupboard in case my little boy becomes unwell. These include:

  • Digital thermometer
  • Liquid painkillers (i.e. Calpol)
  • Neurofen (please seek medical advice from a pharmacist before administering)
  • Decongestants and vapour rub
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Calamine lotion
  • Teething gel
  • Plasters

It’s also worth noting that you can get free medical advice from the NHS 11 service 24 hours a day.

Hopefully, you feel more reassured and prepared for any childhood illnesses your child may have. You may also find this NHS guide on childhood illnesses helpful:

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