5 Tricks to Staying Well When Sitting for Sick Grandchildren

How to keep from catching their bugs while playing nurse

By Charlotte Cowan, M.D.

Expect the frantic call. Your daughter's running late for a critical meeting. Her husband's out-of-town. The baby's too feverish for day care. And — guess what? — the emergency sitter's booked solid. You could say “no” to her plea for backup support. But when a child reaches out in a pinch, with arms flailing, an "I'll take the baby" is more likely to slip out.

If you have ongoing medical problems or are recovering from surgery, it's wise to ask your physician if exposure to certain infectious illnesses poses a special risk. The response will provide solid guidelines for when it's best not to babysit. If you're all-clear to welcome a sniffling grandchild into your home, take extra precautions to keep from catching the bug. Here are five tricks to safeguarding your health while playing nurse to your grandchild — and angel to his parents.

Create a Bathrobe Barrier

Soothe sick babies or toddlers by holding them for feedings, rocking, and coddling them. Before you pick up your grandbaby, though, slip your bathrobe on over your clothes. When you put your grandchild down for a nap, take off the robe and leave it with him. Then, just before you pick him up again after he wakes, put your robe on.

Wash Away Germs

With almost all infectious illnesses — colds, coughs, flu, fever, sore throats, vomiting, diarrhea — washing your hands (and face) after being with your grandchild can minimize the spread of sick germs. Wash your hands after you read a story or have a meal together, after you give him a hug (no kisses!), after you tuck him in for a nap. After any contact, rinse your hands and face. And remember not to share your grandchild’s food or drinks. This may be tempting in many families but offers germs a hotline from the sick child’s mouth into yours. Yuck!

Build a "Boat" Bed

A toddler grandchild will be more comfortable resting nearby as you move about the kitchen or living room. Make an ideal bed for your hacking grandchild by turning two comfortable armchairs to face each other. This special “boat” bed will safely contain the child — and limit your time spent sitting next to him on the sofa. Fill the "boat" bed with pillows and your grandchild's favorite stuffed animals and toys. If you create this makeshift bedroom for your ailing grandchild, you'll be able to keep an eagle-eye on him — and minimize trips up and down the stairs or hallways during the day.

Select a Special Tissue Box

Give a sneezing grandchild older than 2 his own box of tissues and a private wastebasket. Put him in charge of his nose! If you can't resist swooping in to lend a hand, don’t forget that dabbing petroleum jelly at the bottom of the nose keeps it from getting chapped. Then, wash your hands.

Consider Wearing a Mask... or Not Sitting

Some infectious disease experts suggest wearing a mask when taking care of a sick grandchild (they can be bought over-the-counter at drugstores). But wearing them can be uncomfortable and, to your grandchild, frightening to look at. It's your call. But if the risk is great enough to warrant strapping on a mask, declining to babysit may be a smarter option.

The good news: Most pediatric infectious illnesses are short-lived. If you're healthy and end up catching a virus from your grandchild, don't fret. It will be gone in no time!


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heidnseek on 2012-10-01 23:41:54

These are some great tips, IMO! Even more so, I think, for those of us who watch our grandkids often. Or those who are raising or helping to raise those grandkids. In fact, if any of those describe you, I would love to have you come over and talk to us in Grandparents Caring for Grandkids. We're a support group for frequent and fulltime grandparent (and other relative) caregivers. (Former and soon-to-be such caregivers are welcome, too!). Just scroll up to the very top of the page and click on Community, then Grandparenting and you'll find us! Or key in the following link:


rosered135 on 2012-10-01 09:39:12

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