How to cope with being poorly as a parent

Specialist Health Editor at Bupa UK
30 August 2016
A mother sitting with her children

As a parent, you’re constantly on the go. Children demand care and attention 24/7, so you really can’t afford to become ill. But with a new school year starting, germs and illnesses are more likely to spread from household to household, and sometimes it’s unavoidable. As a mother myself, I know how hard it can be to carry on when you’re poorly, but the following advice might just help you through it.

Reduce your risk in the first place

To prevent becoming poorly in the first place, there are some simple things you can do to reduce the risk of germs spreading to your household.

Hand washing is the single most effective thing to reduce the spread of germs.

  • Wash your hands regularly and teach your children about the importance of clean hands. Explain why they should wash their hands frequently throughout the day, both at home and at school.
  • Wash your hands using soap and water, and remember to dry them properly afterwards.
  • Don’t become lazy with hand washing – a quick splash won’t do the job. Washing your hands properly takes about as long as singing Happy Birthday twice!
  • Keep some alcohol-based hand gel in your bag or car for when you’re not near water and soap. Be sure to keep it out of reach of small children though.
  • Get your children into the habit of washing their hands thoroughly as soon as they get home from school or nursery. If you pick your children up, you could get them to apply hand gel in the car.

Look after yourself day to day. Eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly and making sure you get enough sleep will help to keep you in good physical health and also reduce your risk of illness.

Support your immune system

If you do succumb to a bug, be sure to eat well. A balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables will give you all the vitamins and minerals you need to support your immune system and help your body to fight the illness. Here are some top tips for keeping your vitamin levels topped up while you’re busy with your children.

  • Fill up the fruit bowl so you can grab fruit on the go. Easy-peel oranges are perfect to take out and about – they don’t need washing and will give you a vitamin C boost.
  • Blitz up a fruit smoothie. You don’t need a fancy, branded blender to create healthy and nutritious smoothies and juices. Any basic blender or food processor will do. Try all sorts of combinations to help reach your five-a-day. Think mangos, blueberries, kale, bananas, strawberries, beetroot ... the list goes on! See further down the page for a zingy smoothie recipe to try.
  • Don’t rely on vitamin supplements. If you have a cold or similar illness, it may not be beneficial to spend a fortune on these. The shelves in your local pharmacy or supermarket are lined with products promising to support your immune system. But the truth is, you can get everything you need by eating a varied, balanced diet. There is some evidence that taking vitamin C supplements may reduce the duration of a cold, but it’s unlikely to prevent you from catching bugs in the first place.

An infographic showing a smoothie recipe

Ask for help

There will be times when you feel so rotten (or physically can’t get out of bed) that you’ll need to ask a family member or friend for help. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to have help at hand when illness strikes. Instead, why not ask one of your children’s friend’s parents if they could do the school run, or have your children over to play for a little while? Sometimes just a couple of hours’ rest can revive you.

Don’t feel guilty if you put your child into nursery for an extra afternoon, or if you have to rearrange plans. Illness happens and the most important thing is to be able to get some rest.

Low-key activities

Looking after children requires energy – both physical and mental. When you’re ill, this can be challenging and at times unmanageable. Whatever your thoughts are on TV and screen time, a favourite film or TV show can be a saviour. It can give you an hour or so to have a hot drink and rest. Cuddle up with your children and enjoy some down time.

Quieter activities such as drawing, sticking, painting and making can also keep children occupied (and still) for a while.

Head to bed early

Getting enough sleep is incredibly important to support good health. Therefore, lots of sleep and rest is essential for getting better. Shift your bedtime to that of your children’s. Once your little ones are tucked up, leave all unnecessary chores for another time (or to a willing partner!) and head to bed yourself. Bedside essentials should include:

My overall advice is not to feel guilty. As parents, we give so much of our time and energy to our children. It’s OK to send them elsewhere while you recover, or to use the TV for some downtime. Simplify everything around when you’re poorly, and then simplify some more. Washing can wait and appointments can be rescheduled – and I’m sure your children won’t mind watching their favourite TV show more than once!

Here at Bupa we understand how important your family is. So with our family health insurance you can rest assured knowing that eligible treatment and support is available for your loved ones when you need it.

Alice Rossiter
Specialist Health Editor at Bupa UK

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