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Even though it’s (probably) happened a few times in their short lives, it never gets easier when our kids get sick. Every time they cough or whimper, it sends our pulses racing. While we may think we know what to do when our child is under the weather, we tend to call friends and family for advice, or google their symptoms, even when common sense dictates that they just need rest, comfort, and hydration.

So, OK, you know what you should do—but what should you avoid? Since the internet is full of suggestions that could lead you astray, we’ve put together an explainer of what you shouldn’t do when getting your child back to full strength. 

Don’t bother pushing vitamin C

When our kids come down with a cold, our first instinct is to run out and buy an immunity booster with high doses of vitamin C to help them recover naturally. 

But Dr. Mollie Grow, MD, MPH, at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics in General Pediatrics at the University of Washington, says that while focusing on giving your child healthy, nutrient-rich foods is a good strategy as your kid’s body is healing, there has been no evidence to suggest that high concentrations of vitamin C will improve their recovery more than a regular dose. 

Don’t give them (too much) sugar

Speaking of treats, if one of your child’s symptoms is diarrhea, sugary foods and drinks can worsen matters. Grow recommends diluting fruit juices, putting them on ice, or freezing them into popsicles to make them less concentrated.

“If a kid has a sore throat, these are things that can be a little bit numbing to swollen or painful areas,” says Grow.

That said, there is nothing wrong with making your child feel comfortable if they aren’t feeling well. It won’t impede their recovery if you stop for a Happy Meal on the way home from the doctor’s office.

“I think take everything in moderation,” says Grow.

Don’t wake them up just for medication

In addition to rest and hydration, your child may need to take an over-the-counter or prescribed medication to make them feel more comfortable. There are typically instructions to give them a dosage every several hours, but if your child is resting when it’s time to take the next dose, you shouldn’t wake them up.

“Let kids sleep because sleep is such an important part of our body’s healing process,” says Grow. “So much of our recovery is through extra rest and sleep. Allowing the body to do what it wants to do naturally with sleep is important.”

Don’t over-rely on OTC meds

Most over-the-counter children’s cough remedies are not effective, per Grow. “They’re basically kind of placebo medicines,” she adds. Add sore throat sprays to this list, as well. Most cold medicines aren’t recommended for children under four, anyway.

There are more natural alternatives to treating coughs and sore throats. For children older than one, honey has been shown to be more effective than over-the-counter cough suppressants with its natural anti-inflammatory properties, per Grow. (However, honey should never be given to children under a year old—they’re extra susceptible to a type of bacteria called Clostridium, which can cause infant botulism.)

Grow says that VapoRub and a cough lozenge can also be effective for kids with stuffy noses, sore throats, and cough. What they can take depends on age, however, so check labels carefully. 

Speaking of labels, if you’re giving your kid children’s formula acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (like Motrin) for pain relief or to lower their fever, it can be tricky to know if you are giving the correct dosage. Most include a dosage cup or syringe to help you confirm you’re giving your child the right amount, so use it.

“Just take the time to make sure that you know your child’s weight and that you’re using the correct measurement for their dose,” adds Grow.

Don’t keep them inside

It’s a common myth that going outside when your child is sick isn’t healthy. However, having them stare at a television or tablet all day can strain their eyes and cause headaches. Grow says it’s okay to let them go outside and get some fresh air if they feel up to it.

“Being in nature regulates our systems,” she adds. “Just walking or something that’s not exerting, but doing something [outside] is very therapeutic overall.”

Don’t necessarily rush to the doctor

If your child has a fever but can eat, stay hydrated, and doesn’t show a change in their mental status, you can monitor them from home for several days. Treat them with children’s formula acetaminophen or ibuprofen, preferably without additional flavors or colors. However, if symptoms change or their fever lasts more than five days, Grow says it might be a good idea to visit the doctor. 

Don’t isolate them from you

Having a physical connection with you can be therapeutic for your kid, and feeling comfortable can aid in their recovery. If you’re concerned about catching whatever they’re carrying, consider wearing a mask to prevent getting sick yourself. Don’t forget to wash your hands often, avoid sharing food and utensils, and keep plenty of hand sanitizer handy.

While it’s frustrating being home with a sick kid, it does mean they’re building their immunity. “Getting through an illness will hopefully mean that kids have some better protection the next time it comes around,” says Grow.

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