Editor’s note: This article is for general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical condition for sick kids or adults.

You’ve got the kids, and you’ve got the plan.  Dad time is fun time, and you’ve checked the movie schedule and planned for pizza afterward.  And then your kid said something that totally knocked you off your game.

“Dad, I don’t feel so good.”  And just like that, you’ve got a sick kid.

If your first instinct is to call your ex, hang on.  Even if Mom was always the go-to parent when your child was sick, things are different now.  Each parent has to be on their own for both the good and the not-so-good.  While team efforts are definitely called for at times – Sara broke her leg, and we’re at the hospital – stomach bugs and fevers are completely doable.  You just need a little how-to coaching to tackle the job.  Ready?  It’s time to go from Fun Dad to Superman.

Abandon the Current Plan

First off, everyone needs to be okay with the change in plans.  As the adult, it’s your job to absorb any disappointment first, even if you’re both missing something amazing.  No one wants to be sick, and your kiddo feels even worse if you’re disappointed.  Let your child know that this is no big deal, and you can handle it.  Reassure them there will be other opportunities another day; today is just about making them feel better.

Finding Out What’s Wrong

It sounds simple, but it’s not.  I just don’t feel good encompasses a multitude of ailments.  Be patient and start a conversation.  Often children can’t really pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, but you can sometimes narrow the choices by talking to your sick kids.  Ask a few questions:

  • Does your stomach hurt?
  • Is your head bothering you?
  • Do you feel like you might throw up?
  • Did you do anything earlier that might be making you feel bad now?
  • Have the kids been sick at school?
  • Can you point to, or show me, what hurts?

Keep calm, don’t be in a rush and give this a little time.  Dads are good at evaluating problems, finding solutions and moving on.  This isn’t about that.  This is about listening first, action later.

Give Me Comfort

Think back to when you were a child.  More specifically, try to remember when you were sick.  You might remember the things that made you feel better were comfort-based.  A stomach bug or a cold or any number of minor maladies don’t have a quick cure.  It’s usually 48 hours of comfort and rest, with an occasional pain reliever thrown in.  So, what comfort necessities should you keep on hand?  Fear not, Boy-Scout this list, and you’ll be good to go when you have a sick kid.

Ginger ale.  A must-have for upset stomachs, used by parents for years.  Keep a six-pack in your cupboard, and make it one of the first things you offer.  No ice, keep it at room temperature. Icy liquid on an upset stomach will literally come back to haunt you.

Saltine Crackers.  Bland, salty and wonderful, these squares can work magic on an upset stomach.

Extra Blankets & Pillows.  Keep a few extra soft blankets and pillows to make a nest for your sick kiddo on the sofa or in their bed.  Let them choose.  It can sometimes be scary for kids when they feel sick.  If they want to be near you, set them up on the sofa.

Clean Bucket.  They won’t make it to the bathroom if they’re sick and vomiting; they never do.  Keep a clean bucket stashed in the cupboard and line it with a disposable plastic bag.  Toss a few paper towels in the bottom for absorption.  Don’t go running to the garage for the bucket you use to wash the car.  Time spent searching for the bucket and washing it out is time you probably won’t have.

Dad’s Doctor Kit

Sometimes you’ll need a little extra help, and modern medicine can step in to fill the gap.  Some folks can detect the presence of fever with a hand to the forehead.  For the rest of us mere mortals, a digital thermometer works just fine.  There are a variety of high-tech options out there, but a simple digital device is adequate.  An average temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but a little variance, plus or minus a degree, is perfectly normal. If your child has special health concerns, that may be different.  Check with your doctor’s office if you have any questions about how high is too high for their temperature.

Make certain you have the doctor’s contact information on hand before you need it.

If your child does have fever and discomfort, you can give them acetaminophen or ibuprofen to bring the fever down and make them feel more comfortable.  Remember, no adult-sized medications, unless your child is old enough to meet the guidelines on the label.  Be careful with liquid medications; always check the dosage and use the dropper or medicine cup that came with the medicine.  Set a timer, or write down doses given so that you can keep to a schedule.

Let Me Entertain You

While adults may choose to try and sleep their way through a nuisance illness, children don’t.  They feel terrible, but they’re bored and cranky.  What’s a parent to do?  Yes, there’s always television and movies and video games, and they can distract quite well.  But you might want to have an old-school backup in your pocket:  a book.  Reading aloud to your child relaxes both of you.  A story brings you into the same moment together and is a great chance for some conversations that usually don’t happen when we’re busy doing-all-the-things.  Skip the graphic novels and pull out something classic.  A little Treasure Island or perhaps Journey to the Center of the Earth?  There may be a bit of grumbling to begin, but once the story captures the imagination, the adventure takes off.  Remember Peter Falk in The Princess Bride?

Feeling Better Takes Time

If we had our choice, we would never be sick, and neither would our children.  But realizing that this whole thing is a process, not an instant fix, makes you better prepared to deal with your sick kids.  You aren’t Superman because you cured the problem in a flash; you’re Superman because you guided your child through the process doing everything you could to make them feel better.  You are Superman because you took the time, told them everything would be fine, and followed through.

Sick Kids Silver Linings

Yes, your original weekend plans were trashed.  Yes, you did way too much laundry.  Yes, you desperately need a shower.  All true.

You also had the time for some conversations that you may not normally have.  Win. You kiddo also had the chance to see Dad drop everything, pull out all the stops and make them feel better.  Win.  You watched a favorite movie together, or played a favorite game or maybe even read a story together.  Win.  And, believe it or not, years from now, your son or daughter won’t remember how bad they felt that day.  They will remember the time spent reading together, or talking, or playing that game.  Sometimes we forget it’s the small memories that stick with us forever.

Superman indeed!

(c) Can Stock Photo / michaeljung