Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

Keep Calm and Be Prepared – A Mother’s Guide to Sick Days


As a young mom, Mary Ellen Barrett was caught off-guard when someone woke in the night sniffling, coughing, or worse, so she made up this shelf of supplies.

This has been an unusually virulent flu season, and it really isn’t over yet.

As homeschoolers, we have the opportunity to close the door and avoid many of the germs that engulf the public schools and other places where children gather. However, no one is really safe from illness when you have a few children who are together all day.

Something like the flu, a head cold, ear infections or (heaven help us) an intestinal virus can take weeks to go through the house and a good month or so before you can get back on track. Feeling like yourselves again may take even longer.

Fighting Against Germs and Illnesses

As a new mom, I spent a few years being caught off-guard when someone woke in the night sniffling, coughing, or throwing up. I never seemed to have the supplies on hand to provide some comfort or care to the people I love. So I made up a shelf of supplies in an upstairs bathroom that would help us through the illnesses and viruses that generally come our way each winter and spring.

First off I must say that the best defense against germs is hand-washing. When I first had my son, Ryan, so many years ago, my pediatrician (who is still our doctor twenty-two years later, God bless her) told me all good mothers have dry skin on their hands from washing them all day long.

I have a habit of washing my hands very often, and I keep a nice hand cream by the sink to help with dryness. I also insist that the children wash their hands often, particularly when we come in from somewhere like church, the library, or an activity where there were a lot of people. It really does help.

Another good idea is daily vitamin C (check with your doctor first) and Elderbery Syrup (I make my own, recipe below) both of which boost the immune system in a rather painless manner. I decided many years ago that Cod Liver Oil isn’t worth the screaming.

I also prepare chicken broth and freeze it in jar, (leave space at the top for expansion) and can whip up some nutritious soup pretty quickly. Alphabet or star-shaped pasta makes it more special.

It goes without saying that if the intestinal disturbance is very severe or if breathing is labored, calling the doctor or visiting the ER is the most sensible course of action. I would rather be thought of as a paranoid mom than have my child become really sick any day of the week.

My “Be Prepared” Supplies

All of these things are stored in a deep dishpan which can be left by the bed of a sick child who has trouble making it to the bathroom on time.

  • Hot water bottle – this is so soothing for tummy aches or when someone has achy joints.
  • Chamomile tea – again, very soothing and can calm a fussy kid. Brew it strong and add some apple or orange juice for flavor if necessary.
  • Ginger tea – very good for upset tummies. A little honey or agave to temper the spiciness. If the child is very nauseous, try spooning it in a teaspoon at a time.
  • Saltines – for when the child is ready for a little food.
  • Ginger Ale – soda is generally off-limits for this house other than a party. I remember my mother giving us flat ginger ale when we were sick, and it just made me feel better. I buy the fancy natural kind for this purpose because it doesn’t have any corn syrup or chemicals and I feel that this is better when trying to fight off a bug. Just a personal preference.
  • Vick’s Vapor Rub – oddly, if you rub this on the soles of a coughing child’s feet and cover with socks, they stop coughing. I’m not kidding, it works. Someone suggested it to me a few years and in a moment of desperation tried it. Kevin stopped coughing about 15 minutes after I applied the goo. It’s now a staple in our arsenal.
  • A warm mist vaporizer
  • Saline spray
  • An old-fashioned ice pack – the one shaped like a small bag with a screw on cap. It’s available on Amazon for very little money and it’s so nice for feverish, achy heads. Also nice for bumps and bruises.
  • Paper towels – even if you aren’t a paper towel person, when there is a virus in the house, particularly the flu, disposable is the way to go. Better safe than sorry. Same with tissues.
  • Hand sanitizer – for the sick person’s room. Use going in and coming out.
  • Disinfectant wipes – to thoroughly wipe doorknobs, faucets, the toilet (don’t forget the handle) and light switches whenever the sick person moves around. This is very important if it is indeed the flu.
  • A stack of clean washcloths – why is it you can never find a clean washcloth when you want one? Buy a bunch in the dollar store and keep them for when someone is sick. They are great for cold compresses, sponge baths, and making funny puppets to make a sick little one laugh.

Spend Time Recuperating

Most of these common bugs can be fought with lots of rest, good nutrition, and a lot of loving care. One of the beautiful things about being home with our children all day is that we can spot right away when they aren’t themselves and can monitor health situations very closely.

When the crisis has passed, have them spend an extra day or two in the house recuperating. No one allows time for recuperating anymore, and it just leads to re-infection. Take time to rest and re-recharge before dashing out into the world once again.

Caring for a sick child calls us to serve and love in an entirely different way, and shows siblings that nothing is more important than this kind of service. It’s exhausting for a mom, but it’s also some of the tenderest care we will give.

Remember to ask the Blessed Mother for her prayers and don’t forget when it’s over to get yourself as much rest as possible – you don’t want to be next!

This is what works for me, but every family is different – consult your family physician when necessary.

About Mary Ellen Barrett

Mother of seven children and two in heaven, Mary is wife to David and a lifelong New Yorker. She has homeschooled her children for eleven years using Seton and an enormous amount of books. She is a columnist for The Long Island Catholic and blogs here . Meet Mary Ellen.
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