What to Do When Your Child Gets the Stomach Flu or a Stomach Virus

After 20+ years as a parent--the invasion of a stomach bug into my home still strikes fear into the heart of my being.  Every. Time.  There is nothing worse than helping a child through a stomach virus--unless you and said child (and maybe a couple of siblings and your spouse) are sick at the same time.  Have that scenario play out in a household one time--and you will develop an insane appreciation for a week ending case of the stomach flu.  We all know that kids bring home germs.  All the germs.  From everywhere.  Every Day.  While saying a daily prayer to ward off the region's latest stomach virus may make you feel better--you may still need to deal with an invading stomach bug or two (or 10) in a given year.  What are you to do when your child gets the stomach flu or a stomach virus?  We have a few tips that we have learned over our many (many, many, many) years of battling this home front calamity.

Wash your hands.  Constantly.  For at least a week after the "bug".  Some viruses literally live on your home's surfaces for DAYS--just waiting to ruin your week.   Stock up on the hand soap--and wash your hands very frequently when anyone in your home is sick.  Touch the sick person--or touch anything in any area of the home that the sicko may have even breathed on---wash your hands.  In a pinch, you can grab some hand sanitizer--but, really--research shows that some modern bugs are immune to our commercial, hand sanitizers.  Break out the real soap and hot water--and buy some hand lotion because that excessive hand washing will dry out your hands faster than you may even imagine.  

Use the Dishwasher.  I often hand-wash dishes simply because I use a ton of dishes during my day and the dishwasher's capacity doesn't keep up.  But--when I have a child with a stomach bug--I wash everything possible in the dishwasher as it is able to wash in a much higher temperature than I can stand by hand.  Those higher temps help kill those lingering germs on glasses and eating utensils.

No Dishwasher?  Break out the Bleach.  It may be old-school--but, it works.  Add a bit of bleach to your sink wash and it gives you, at least, a little extra sanitizing power.  I use bleach in my sink's dish water to wash anything that isn't dishwasher safe when the kids are sick.  It also adds a little sanitizing power to my dishcloths as well.

Don't Assume that it's a 24-Hour Bug.  While MOST stomach bugs seem to be at their worst during that early 24 hour stage--these things can last for days.  Especially in kids.  I plan for 3 days and hope for 2.  My middle daughter was born with severe reflux issues.  13 years later--a stomach virus takes her out for days and days.  Her extreme gag reflex--and her body's physiology make it very easy for her to vomit for 7 days straight.  Even when most kids are over the illness quickly--she struggles to hold down water for days longer.  Every child is different--and what is a 24-hr bug to most everyone may be much more severe to another.  Learn to adapt to your situation--for more than 24 hrs. 

Remain Calm--Because the Kids Need you To Remain Calm.  Oldest daughter, age 5,  threw up spaghetti at 3 a.m.--all over herself, her bed--and the Pomeranian who slept with her.  The middle daughter threw up all over herself and her lofted bunk bed because her virus-induced-fever made her forget how to get down from the bed and to the bathroom.  The youngest daughter knew that she couldn't make it to the master bathroom--and her sister was taking a shower in their shared bathroom--so--her pillows took the brunt of it all. There is not a parent alive that wants to wash second-hand spaghetti out of Pomeranian fur at 3 a.m. Really.  But--those parents need to stay calm--avoid getting angry--and respond quickly and efficiently--and--most difficultly--in a loving, nurturing manner.  Your child doesn't want to be sick.  They certainly don't want to upset you.  You certainly don't want to make them feel worse--or cry-cough-gag-and throw up everywhere again.  Right?  Try your best to stay calm.

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Decide who stays home with the kids.  BEFORE it's time to stay home with the kids. For families where both parents work--simply choosing which parent deals with the situation when a child has a stomach virus is a challenge.  Plan ahead to either pre-designate a parent by the month--or make it a case by case situation when issues arise. I remember staying up all night with sick little ones--and facing off with the husband at 7 a.m. over our "very important days.".....Really.  Either plan for a nanny/sitter or....pre-plan for the parent of the week/month/.

Have a Standard, Stomach Flu or Sick Day Game Plan.  When someone gets sick in our home--they are isolated...sequestered..LOCKED up in one space of the home--with one bathroom dedicated to their use.  We have small trash cans--easily fitted with plastic garbage bags for those moments when that dedicated bathroom is too far away.  We have a stash of chicken broth, saltine crackers, soup, and 7-Up at all times.  When we use up that stash--we replenish.  We know which parent is going to stay home with the kids--and we have a back-up plan when a parent (and/or another sibling) gets sick.

Don't Rush Solid Foods.    When my kids are hungry--they want real food.  Especially after a day or two of viral starvation.  We are talking pasta--chicken strips--pizza--fish fillets.  They don't light up at the offer of chicken broth or canned, chicken & rice soup.  But--parents need to be realistic--and realize that those viral-drained tummies still need blah, liquid, basic foods for better recovery.  Rushing solid food too soon can lead to another 24 hours in sick day land. 

Should you see a doctor?  My oldest and youngest braved stomach bugs without issue.  My middle daughter sometimes requires anti-nausea medication (in prescription form)--and sometimes, if she gets hit with too many stomach viruses during a school year--we need a doctor's excuse for school.  After a day or so--I give our pediatrician a call to see (1) what's going around and (2) how long the local bug is lasting--and (3) to see if we should come in for a check (or if she thinks we need prescription medication). Middle daughter has even been prescribed the same anti-nausea meds as chemo patients to help her recover if the virus is long lasting.
Skip the Child's Activities until He/She is No Longer Contagious.  Period.  Please.  Yes.  It is inconvenient to stay home with Little Susie until she has been symptom free for 24 hours.  Yes.  It is inconvenient to skip those dance, gymnastic or art classes when your child is sick--and have to find time to make them up or "eat the cost" if the classes are non-refundable (which most are nonrefundable).  BUT.  I hate it when my daughter goes to dance class at 4 and hears that her classmate "threw up all morning, but feels okay now." and came to class.  Great.  Thanks.  I don't want a stomach bug.  I don't want my kids to have one.  Especially my middle daughter.  We suffer through the "inconvenience" of that "contagious period"--because we assume that nobody else really wants a virus either.  

Clean the House--From Top to Bottom.  Your sick child probably touched everything from every doorknob to the family computer keyboard--and probably everything in the house in between in the hours before you realized she was sick and contagious.  Wash the sick person's bedding--but, also take the time to disinfect every area of the house that the person may have visited in the days before illness struck!

It is the season for stomach bugs in our little corner of the world.  With these tips, we manage to brave them without too much added stress!

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