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Sick Day Survival

Seven tips to help your child cope with being under the weather

They're called "common" for a reason. Colds strike kids about six to 10 times per year, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases notes; if they're in school, up to a dozen. In turn, they're the leading cause of missed school days. That leaves many families setting up "home hospital."

Tending to a bedridden brood demands juggling and patience. But battling the bug also can be a time for your family to slow down, be pampered and reconnect. Here's how a few local parents soothe high temps with TLC.

1. Hunker down. When a cold sets in, strategically set the scene. Feather the family futon with extra pillows and thick blankets, maybe stoke the fireplace – and ensure the barf bucket and cleaning products are within easy reach. "The mattress comes downstairs, in front of the TV," says Anne Kennedy. She runs Annie's Children's Center in Ann Arbor, and her six kids range in age from 3 to 15. "To them, it's a special treat. For me, it's to keep them off the carpet if they're going to puke!"

2. Favorite things. The small stuff can bring a sense of security – especially when the next wave of nausea could strike at any moment. For Lisa Macomb, a mom of six and registered nurse in Riverview, that includes "The Ashley Blanket": a pink flannel in the shape of a heart, made by her son's ex-girlfriend. "Whenever anyone's sick or cold, we're always fighting over the blanket," she says. Or, keep a "sick day kit" on hand, packed with small toys, games and a few goodies (like a few tasty lozenges).

3. Mixed media. Reading aloud a cherished book can be soothing, but can demand more of zoned-out kid's attention, while tying up yours. That's where, at least in the early stages, a favorite flick wins out. Kennedy says that for her boys, getting to watch Pirates of the Caribbean on a weekday afternoon is an out-of-the-ordinary bonus. It's also a chance to slip in some constructive chat about what's on the tube.

4. The healing touch. Although it may not stop the sniffles, hands-on care is a remedy in its own right – whether a hot water bottle or mentholated massage. Stay-at-home dad Keith Peters of Bloomfield Township uses TV time on sick days to snuggle with his 6-year-old daughter on the couch, and rub her back. While that wouldn't fly with his older sons, ages 12 and 14, dad may hold a cold washcloth to their foreheads.

5. Comfort foods (and beverages). Viruses can make little tummies a volatile place. Since replenishing liquids is vital – particularly when there's vomiting – Kennedy pours Vernor's soda for stomach bugs, and doles out popsicles for fevers. Her husband also fixes up staples from his childhood sick days: chicken noodle soup and cheese bread. When those solid foods start settling again, Macomb might whip up Jell-O or run to McDonald's for a rare milkshake. "It's more like a 'sick' kind of food," she says.

6. Doldrum busters. They're still stuffy, but out of bed. During this typical Day Two scenario, parents can still spoil a bit – while easing kids back into productivity. Rory Macomb, who's 5, gets special time with mom in the kitchen. The art-loving Kennedy kids tote out the gooey and messy stuff, like Play-Doh and scrapbooking supplies. And, whether it's to play board games or just talk, Peters says he puts the small stuff on hold. "The laundry may be piling up," he says, "but I'm just going to be hanging out with them."

7. Back on track. Typically, most colds wrap up within two to three days, says Sue Zacharski, an elementary school nurse in Pontiac. Toward the tail end, get kids back on track with a few everyday chores, like tidying the bed or getting the backpack prepped. And, if the sick time is a bit longer, some homework won't hurt. "Many times, children shouldn't be in school, but they're not too sick where they can't be doing something," Zacharski says.

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