8 Creative Ways to Entertain a Sick Toddler


November 1, 2018

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If you have children, chances are, you’ve had sick children.

With three toddler boys in tow, when sickness hits our house, everyone gets it. Disclaimer: we have not yet had the dreaded hand foot and mouth virus, OR the stomach bug, OR the flu, OR anything else more serious. My guess is that when you have one of those illnesses you’re in survival mode, and you may not be all that concerned with toys and games.

However, the average child has 8-10 colds per year before age two.

This means that if you have a toddler, unfortunately mild sickness might be part of your normal.

Having just experienced my triplets giving their colds to one another, and me, repeatedly over 21 days, I can tell you that this is a rough kind of normal because it can be hard to make a sick child happy. A child with a cold and low grade fever who feels okay sometimes, okay enough to get out a few of his favorite toys and then starts crying. A child who feels okay most of the time, but you can’t take him to the playground for fear of leaving snot puddles on the slide and infecting everyone else. A child who might feel okay for a little while if he could just escape from the house he’s been trapped in since day 1 of the cold.

Fellow parents, I’ve had to be very creative over the last 21 days, and I’m hoping some of the crazy things I’ve tried might help you as you try to stay sane with a sick toddler (or three).

1. Go to the pet store.

Just like the zoo, but free, and parking is a piece of cake. Going on three weeks of sickness, we had to get out of the house.

My kids love looking at the fish first, and then we move over to the hamsters. You can almost always count on one or more hamsters being interesting, and the guinea pigs are often chasing each other right at toddler eye level. There is a small chance that my children will say “gerbil” or “guinea pig” before they say “lion,” but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

We then take a stop at the bird cages, check out the snakes and lizards and see if any of them are awake, and then, saving the most exciting for last, we head over to watch the dogs being groomed.

This is a fun way to get out of the house, practice animal sounds, and see something new and different, all without contaminating anyone else (I keep my kids in their Radio Flyer wagon). Win, win, win.

2. Bathtime.

5 baths a day? Why not. A warm bath may loosen up the congestion, helping them breathe a little easier, and you’ll have a clean smelling baby to snuggle with all day.

3. FaceTime with a family member.

Catch up with someone who lives across the country, or even someone who lives down the street and doesn’t want to get sick. I like to hand my toddlers the phone and let them take our FaceTime friends for a little tour around the house, toddler style.

Note: family members who struggle with motion sickness may not appreciate this.

4. Air mattress.

This was my husband’s idea. Noting that the only time our sick children seemed happy was burying their faces in the couch and climbing/rolling around (but always on the verge of falling off), he blew up our queen sized air mattress, put a sheet on it and surrounded it with pillows. The boys spent a solid 30 minutes bouncing around on it and diving on and off of it, acting like they weren’t even sick.

5. Go outside (weather permitting).

Unfortunately, we live in the land of 100 degrees from April-September, so this has been hard for us. You might have the opposite problem if you live in a cold climate. However, I’ve noticed that even 10 minutes outside seems to help us reset and makes a huge difference. Some fresh air might help your child recover, besides being a distraction — try going for a walk, exploring in a field, or feeding the ducks (I’m fairly sure they can’t catch a human cold).

6. Go for a car ride.

A polarizing idea, because some kids hate the car. Mine are usually happy and distracted making faces in the car mirrors for up to 20 minutes, so you could consider that — even if it means you just drive around your neighborhood, or go to a pet store that’s a little farther away than normal. Every minute counts when you’re trying to get through a sick day.

7. Something “new.”

Save a few toys in a closet to pull out when your kids are sick — or just buy something completely new (the shopping trip to get it is a diversion, too). Or try my kids’ favorite piggy bank toy. Either way, this is a distraction that might help them forget they’re sick for a few minutes. Have they ever tried coloring before? How about bubbles? A puzzle? A new book that has interactive buttons and makes sounds?

8. A little screen time.

Okay, I understand that this idea isn’t creative at all, but no matter where you are in the debate on kids and screens, I know we’ve probably all considered it when our kids are sick. Sometimes it’s the only thing that stops the crying.

Besides this, maybe it’s educational. One of my 15 month olds recognizes the alphabet song in Little Baby Bum. Since having his latest cold, he moos with the cow during the letter C and is quacking like a duck before the letter D even shows up. I like to think this means he is a genius and it’s one thing that makes me feel better about resorting to TV so much this month.

Here are a few favorite, somewhat educational baby/toddler shows to pop on when nothing else works (or sooner):

As much as it may seem like your children will never recover from their colds and return to their normal, happy selves, they really will. Hang in there, mama. You’ve got this.

What creative ideas do you have for entertaining sick toddlers?

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