How to Take Care of Your Kid if They've Got the Flu

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 23, 2013
4 min read

When your child is achy and feverish with the flu, some simple home remedies can make them feel more comfortable. You'll be surprised what a little TLC and common sense can do.

You can't just wave a magic wand, but some old-fashioned methods can bring lots of relief:

Cold compresses. Put them on their forehead to ease a fever.

Lukewarm baths. They can also bring down their high temps. Just make sure the water doesn't get too cold. If they start shivering, take them out of the tub, because that can push their fever up.

Warm compresses or warm water bottles. Use them to soothe their aching body. Make sure the water bottle isn't too hot, and don't let your child fall asleep on it.

Never microwave the compress or bottle. It creates hot spots that burn the skin.

Massage. It's a great way to get rid of a headache or pains in their body. "Just rubbing your child's head or back really can make them feel better," says Lisa M. Asta, MD, a pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Moisture. Try cool humidifiers, vaporizers, or saline spray. They all keep your child's nasal passages moist, which is helpful when they're all stuffed up. Clean your humidifier or vaporizer before and after you use it so it doesn't breed bacteria and mold.

Warm liquids. Soups and herbal teas soothe a sore throat and help break up mucus in their airways.

Remember, your goal isn't just to get rid of flu symptoms. You want to make your child feel safe, comfortable, and cared for. "Sometimes just cuddling is the best thing you can do for a child with cold or flu," Asta says.

Your little one won't always need medication if they have the flu. For example, Asta says you don't need to treat a light fever if your child is feeling alright. For severe aches and pains -- or a fever over 102 F that makes them uncomfortable -- over-the-counter drugs can help. Just make sure to use them carefully.

Choose the right drug. Pediatricians recommend children's versions of acetaminophen or ibuprofen for  fevers and aches.

You can give acetaminophen to children 2 years and older. For kids under 2, ask a doctor for the correct dose. Children 6 months or older can take ibuprofen.

Never give a child aspirin, because it raises their risk of a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.

Don't mix medications. Switching between acetaminophen and ibuprofen raises the risk of accidentally giving your child too much medicine. Unless your pediatrician tells you it's OK, stick with one drug, and follow the directions carefully.

Give the right amount. Only buy medications that are specially made for kids in your child's age group. Measure the dose carefully in a well-lit room. Use the dosing device included with the medicine instead of a kitchen spoon. Never give your child an adult drug.

Make a note on a piece of paper each time you give a dose. That way you can keep track of when your child last got medicine -- and you won't accidentally give too much or an extra dose.

Avoid cold and flu remedies in young kids. You shouldn't give them to kids under age 4. In older kids, it’s unclear how well they work. If you decide to use cold medicine, read the label and pick the medicine that most closely matches your child's symptoms.

Don't beg your doctor for antibiotics. The flu is caused by a virus. Antibiotics only work for infections that are brought on by bacteria.

Ever notice how children like to put bandages on the tiniest scrape or cut? That's because they make them feel better, even if they don't need one.

Use the same idea when your children feel crummy with the flu. You could:

  • Set aside a special cup to use only when your child is sick.
  • Make sure their favorite stuffed animal or blanket is with them on the couch.
  • Bring down a toy doctor's kit so they can give their stuffed animal a check-up.
  • Have a stash of special foods -- like Popsicles -- on hand for times when they get sick.
  • Reserve a few special toys or puzzles in the closet for sick days.

"Families develop traditions for what helps when a child is sick with a cold or flu," Asta says. Those are the things that a child will start to associate with feeling cared for -- and getting better. Think about what helped you when you were little.

"When kids are sick, parents really want to do something to help," Asta says. You can't cure the illness, but you can do a lot to make it more bearable. A special cup or a hug won't bring down a child's fever or body ache. But little kindnesses can help your child feel better in other ways.