Childhood Illnesses

Caring For a Sick Child

Most minor childhood illnesses are caused by viruses so antibiotics may not help. There is a lot you can do at home to help your child to feel better.

Babies and very young children can’t always tell you what is wrong but they may become irritable, they may cry more than usual, or they may be unusually quiet. Their sleep pattern and appetite might be different to what is usual for them.

Offer small healthy snacks and regular drinks, or if your baby or young child is breastfeeding, continue to offer breastfeeds regularly as this will help to stop them becoming dehydrated.

Dive Deeper

Viruses (Including COVID)

Most viruses can be treated at home with rest and infant paracetamol. Most children will get better on their own and you can help manage their symptoms by following these tips.

  • Keep a close eye on your child if they are unwell. Listen to them if they can talk or watch your baby closely.
  • Make sure your child drink lots of fluids so they don’t become dehydrated. If they are drinking enough they will have their usual amount of wet nappies or go to the toilet as normal.
  • If your child feels unwell, you can give them infant paracetamol such as Calpol (follow dosage instructions on the medicine bottle).
  • Help your child get plenty of rest and sleep.

Remember that you know your child best. If you are not sure whether your child is seriously unwell, call 111 or your GP for advice. If you think your child is seriously unwell call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E department.

Read more about spotting serous illness in children

Does Your Child Have a Temperature?

If your child has a high temperature it is ok to give them paracetamol or ibuprofen, but do not give them together unless advised to do so by a health professional. Always check the correct dosage before giving medicine, this will be written on the bottle.

Remember – Ibuprofen should not be given to your child if they have chickenpox or asthma.


Read more about how to manage a temperature at home

Keeping Your Child Comfortable

When children are poorly they don’t want to be alone. They may want to be with you during the day and may want extra cuddles. Remember, the safest place for them to sleep is in their own bed. If they are struggling to settle, set up a bed next to their cot or moses basket and sleep next to them.

Avoid having the room too warm, especially if your child has a raised temperature. Room temperature should be around 18 degrees and preferably draught free. Keep your child dressed in comfortable clothing.

Encourage your child to drink regularly so they do not become dehydrated. If they are breast-fed they may want to feed more often. Seek medical advice if they can’t keep fluids down. 

Looking After Yourself

It can be exhausting looking after a sick child and it is important that you also look after yourself! Taking care of yourself is an important part of helping your child recover. Here are some things to try:

  • Share the responsibility of care with your partner, relatives, or other support you may have.
  • Remember to rest when your child is resting. If you feel uncomfortable about leaving your sleeping child alone, sleep near them. 
  • Talk with your doctor if you feel exhausted and unable to continue to care for your child. This can happen to any parent.

How To Stop Germs Spreading

Some minor illness such as coughs, colds, or tummy upsets can spread from one person to another very easily but there are some simple things that you can do to reduce the risk of this happening.

Read more about how to stop germs spreading

Hand Hygiene

Some illnesses such as coughs and colds can spread from one person to another very easily. There is evidence to show this is one of the reasons covid-19 spreads easily amongst children.

There are some simple things that you can do to reduce the risk of this happening.

Read more about hand hygiene

Other Useful Videos 

Who can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

The Lullaby Trust - Baby Check App - This app has simple checks that you can do if your baby is ill and helps you think about whether they need to see a doctor or health professional.

You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below.

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