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How to Juggle a Sick Child and Work

Plan for a Sick Child and Line Up Emergency Care

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How to Juggle a Sick Child and Work
Photo credit: SW Productions/Getty Images

Rarely is it convenient for working parents to stay home with a sick child. When you see your child's nose running, you reach for a tissue but also say a special prayer: "Please, please don't let my child get sick." Here are 5 ideas for keeping a sick child from wreaking havoc with your schedule and career success.

Plan for a Sick Child

Save a few personal days to stay home with the inevitable sick child. You can pretty much count on a baby or toddler in daycare coming home with a cold or ear infection a couple of times each flu season. And school-age children are notorious for passing germs back and forth.

Talk to your supervisor in advance about the best way to manage a sick child. This is especially important if you don't receive paid time off. Bringing it up ahead of time helps you anticipate if you'll have a rigid or flexible work schedule -- and earns brownie points for when you call in at 7 a.m. after being up all night with a vomiting preschooler.

Manage your work so you get the most important tasks done early in the day. That way, when you get a 3 p.m. call to pick up a sick child at school or daycare, you'll be able to leave the office with major projects on track.

Cultivate emergency caregivers among your friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Look for favors you can do for your neighbors and fellow parents from school or daycare. You will most likely need help at some point and these relationships can carry you through. Plus, it's good karma!

Nip Illness in the Bud

It's tempting to ignore sniffles or a small cough and hope that they go away. But if your child starts sneezing on a Saturday morning, pay attention. It may be a warning sign of an upcoming virus.

If your kid seems to be lagging a bit, consider adjusting your weekend schedule to include more rest. A late night at the movies may be the stress that turns the sniffles into a full-blown cold, when a short video at home, early bedtime and big glass of orange juice would've nipped it in the bud.

In fact, you can ward off some colds by always planning a family schedule that includes down time and lots of healthy sleep. Overscheduled kids who stay up too late are more likely to get sick.

Enlist Other Family Members

If you're married, talk to your spouse about how you'll handle sick children. There's no reason the mom in a family should automatically stay home. Your marriage will be happier if you keep resentment from building up.

If your spouse's work schedule truly can't accommodate sick days, find a way to make up for you shouldering the load. Maybe he (or she) can return home early so you can catch up on work at night. Or take a weekend day to come into the office while your spouse tends the home.

Talk to your child's aunts, uncles and grandparents about babysitting in an emergency. Be clear about the precautions you will take to keep them from getting sick. (This is easier when your child can feed and dress herself and merely needs an adult in the house.)

Research Back-up Care

Many cities have an organization offering prescreened caregivers who will come to your house at the last minute to watch your child. They usually charge a hefty fee. Moreover, your child won't know the person and may have some separation anxiety when you leave for work.

Still, it's good to have a phone number on hand and to understand how the service works before your child gets sick. The last thing you want is to be asking about background checks at 8 a.m. when you have a 9 a.m. meeting.

Another possible resource for emergency child care is your child's school or child care center. Ask around to see if teachers or teachers' aides are looking for extra work and have a flexible schedule. Stay in touch with teachers you like who leave the school -- they may be happy to pick up occasional babysitting during the work day.

Send the Kid to School

Hold on, hold on, I'm not suggesting that you send a sick child to school. It's irresponsible to expose other children and staff to a contagious illness. Moreover, your child's cold may get worse if she doesn't have a chance to rest enough.

But after the third or fourth day of a virus -- or a course of antibiotics -- when your kid is energetic, cheerful and sleeping well at night, she needs to go back to school. Certainly, a cough can linger long after the contagious part of an illness is over. Ask your child's pediatrician when the bug will stop being contagious.

When in doubt, use the guidelines set by most daycare centers: a child may return 24 hours after the last fever, vomiting, diarrhea or discolored mucus (i.e. green or yellow snot). If you keep your child home for every little cough or tummy ache, you'll really be in trouble at work.

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