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Common Mistakes Parents Make When Their Infant or Child is Sick

Common Mistakes Parents Make When Their Infant or Child is Sick

Guest Post By Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN

When your child is sick, you work hard to help them feel better. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, parents commonly make a few mistakes when their kids are ill.

Common Mistakes Parents Make When Their Infant or Child is Sick

Here are a few tips to avoid the most common mistakes parents make when their kids are sick so your little one can return to feeling healthy!

Common Mistakes Parents Make When Their Infant or Child is Sick

Too Much of the Same Medicine

If your child has a fever, you may give them acetaminophen (commonly known as Tylenol®). However, if they also have a cold, you may be tempted to also provide a cold and flu medication to help break up mucus and relieve congestion.

If you offer a combo medication, it is essential to read the label closely. For example, Children’s Mucinex® contains acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, guaifenesin, and phenylephrine for cold and flu symptoms. Therefore, if you gave acetaminophen a couple of hours previously and then gave Children’s Mucinex® cold and flu, you could accidentally be giving too much acetaminophen.

If you do make this mistake, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. They have specially trained nurses and pharmacists ready to advise on what to do. Depending on how much your child took, they may or may not need medical attention. However, if you’re in doubt, take your child to be seen.

Medications Within Reach of Children

It can happen to any parent. It’s 2 AM, your child is burning up with a fever, and you offer them chewable Tylenol® to help decrease their temperature. Amid the exhaustion, you forget to put the Tylenol® back up high and out of reach. When your child gets up in the morning, they see it, love how it tastes like candy, and try to eat far more than they should.

First, seek medical advice or care immediately if your child consumes too much medication. And secondly, if you do catch your mistake before any harm is done, move the medication back to its secure place immediately.

Mistakes Parents Make When Their Infant or Child is Sick

Not the Right Amount of Medicine

Your little one might have grown since the last time you gave them medications for an illness. Or, it could be the first time your baby is sick, and you’re feeling nervous about giving them the right amount of medication.

Your child’s healthcare provider’s office is an excellent resource for dosing medications. Most offices provide informational sheets with proper dosing on them. If you haven’t received this before, simply ask if they have them at your next appointment or see if they can send one electronically.

Not Recognizing the Need for Immediate Medical Attention

When it’s cold and flu season and other kids or family members are sick in the home, it can be easy to brush off an infant’s fever as expected. However, Seattle Children’s explains that if your baby is less than 12 weeks old, it is important to call your healthcare provider or seek care if your doctor’s office is closed.

Additionally, Seattle Children’s recommends to avoid giving your young baby any fever-reducing medicines, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen (i.e, Tylenol® or Children’s Motrin®), until you’ve discussed their illness with a healthcare provider.

Measuring Medicines Incorrectly

With little kids, medicines are dosed based on weight or weight ranges. And because young kids are small, too much or too little medicine can be dangerous or ineffective, respectively.

Sometimes kids' medicines come with a measuring cup. However, these are inaccurate. Avoid measuring your child’s medicine in a cup or other inaccurate tool, such as a kitchen spoon; use an appropriate syringe instead.

For example, if you’re only giving a small dose of a medication, you’ll want a smaller syringe. If you’re giving a larger dose of a medication, for example, 8 milliliters, to a bigger kid, a 10 milliliter syringe is fine. 

If you’re unsure if you’re using the correct size to measure your child’s medication, you can ask a pharmacist or your child’s healthcare provider for advice. Many stores you purchase kids' medicines from, such as Walgreens, Target, Walmart, CVS, and others, typically have pharmacists during normal business hours.

Common Mistakes Parents Make When Their Infant or Child is Sick

Pushing for Antibiotics

Viruses cause illnesses like the common cold and the flu, so antibiotics won’t help treat these conditions. Often children with viruses simply need supportive care like fluids, cool mist humidifiers, and extra snuggles.

However, sometimes kids can develop a secondary infection from a virus. For example, a child with a bad cold may develop an ear infection from fluid buildup behind their ear. So if your little one has a fever and you’re concerned they may need prescription medications such as antibiotics, contact your healthcare provider for advice. They’ll be able to let you know if your child should be seen.

Using the Wrong Thermometer

Several thermometers are on the market, and knowing which one to use can be challenging! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends using a rectal thermometer on any infant three months or younger. Remember that if a young infant has a fever (100.4℉ or greater), it is essential to touch base with your healthcare provider immediately or seek medical care if they are closed.

A rectal temperature is the most accurate. However, as kids get older, there are more comfortable ways to get a temperature to know how high their fever is. Besides rectal thermometers, other thermometer types include:

  • In the armpit, also known as auxiliary
  • On the forehead, also known as temporal
  • In the ear, also known as tympanic
  • Orally in the mouth

Note that per the APP, it’s not recommended to take an oral temperature until a child is at least four years old. Additionally, because young babies' ear canals are too narrow for an accurate reading, the AAP recommends not taking an ear temperature until your child is at least six months old.

Also, rectal thermometers often have a flexible tip but can look like a thermometer made for oral or armpit use. Label the rectal thermometer if you have a young baby in the house and are taking rectal temperatures. This way, it doesn’t get mixed up with the other ones. It is also important to clean it after every use.

Key Takeaways

No parent wants to see their baby sick or uncomfortable. And every parent, no matter how experienced, makes mistakes.

Know that as your child’s parent, you are their best advocate, and it is always ok to reach out to a healthcare provider if you are unsure about sick care for your child. No question is silly; providers want kids who get safe and appropriate care at home and are seen when a higher level of care is needed.

Here are some more tips for helping your baby when they are sick:

Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN, is a mother of four and a registered nurse with a background in pediatrics. When she's not working, you can find her cooking up tasty family dinners or keeping up with her kids on a hiking trail in her home state of Colorado.

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