Sick Kid at Home + Working – Part 1

October 23, 2023

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Germ season is coming (slash, is already here – I recorded this and right after, 3 out of 4 of my family went down with a virus ha). Let’s talk about how to handle a sick kid at home when you’re trying to work.

This is Part 1 and focuses on what we can do now, before kids are sick, to prepare. In Part 2, we’ll dig into what to do once a kid is sick.

Here are the resources I mention in the episode:

Here’s the full article these two episodes are based on.

Episode 9 is the episode I mentioned on the Year of Ease.

Here are links for free Covid tests if you want to stop up:

  • Federal government
  • Minnesota for those who live here, too! For others, check if your state has its own program! Note: The federal government free tests seems like a one-time offer while the MN one is a pack each month. If you’re in MN or have a similar state program, use that calendar to remind yourself each month to order more!

To take my free 5-day program, the Reset and Refresh, click here: https://kellynolan.com/reset-refresh.

I also share actionable bite-sized time management strategies on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/_kellynolan_/. Come hang out with me there!

Full Transcript

Episode 26. Sick Kid at Home Part 1

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey, hey, and welcome back! So today we are going to dig into what to do when you have to work but you also have a sick kid at home. Taking a quick step back, I just want to be really clear that The Bright Method is for all people. You don’t have to be a parent to have The Bright Method give you the calm and the peace of mind we’re all looking for. But, as with any role, being a parent comes with its own time management pain points, and so, there are certain podcast episodes I’m gonna do that help address that along with pain points of other roles. If you would like me to address the pain points of a particular role in your life, definitely reach out and let me know.

So turning to this one, I want just to be clear it’s actually gonna be a two-part episode. There’s actually a lot to talk about, as anyone knows who’s been a parent and has had a sick kid at home and wants to work during that time. There’s a lot that goes into it. And so, instead of overwhelming you in one very long episode, I’m gonna break it into two, and we’re gonna break it into things to do before your kids are sick to prepare for that time, and then the next episode is going to be things to do on the time management front once your kid is sick and at home.

All of this pulls from an article I wrote in the past that I’ll also link to in the show notes in case you want to read it. What’s really nice is that lets you just listen to this without feeling like you need to be writing notes, and then you can go check out that article if you would like to. What I think is really fun about the article and these podcast episodes is that, yes, it’s some advice from me, but in addition, I crowdsourced this one, so I put things up on Instagram and to my email list asking for more experienced parents to weigh in on what are their strategies when they have a sick kid at home and how they handle it. And so, the tips I’m gonna go over today and that exist in that article are from me but also from a lot of other parents because I just think there’s so much value in getting — I only have five years of parenting experience, and there are people out there with a lot more. And so, let’s get the benefit of all of their wisdom as well.

So let’s dig in! Again, we’re just gonna dig into the things that you should think about before your kids are sick so that you can think about right now — this is the right now-type stuff that you can dig into so that you’re as prepared as possible for when the inevitable happens. Okay, so there are five tips we’re gonna go over. Let’s dig in!

Tip #1: Stock Up on Medicine – 2:49

So tip number one is to stock up on medicine, especially when kids get sick during the height of germ season. That’s kind of maybe back to school, definitely around the holidays and right after the holidays. If you wait to try and get medicine that you want to give your kiddo in the time, one, it’s harder because you have a sick kid at home, so it’s a little bit harder to get away. Especially if your kids are younger, you have to bring them with you. But also the shelves can be bare. That’s something that we definitely experienced last year in 2022/2023 holiday season. At least then there was a big shortage of medication. It was harder to find.

And so, what I recommend doing is stocking up on your go-tos. So if you need Infant Tylenol, Infant Motrin, Children’s Tylenol, Children’s Motrin — I’m pretty sure Tylenol Infant and Children’s is the same — but regardless, think through what medications you want to have on hand and stock up on them. I also need to get a couple flavors because once your kids are older, they have some opinions on the flavors. And so, just have a variety there if you would like as well.

Also, you can kind of expand this a little bit. So I’m focusing on medicine, but also think about what are the things that future you might need. So you might think about having soup on hand, Pedialyte to help with getting fluids in, things along those lines.

I also really recommend — especially this year given now that we’re in 2023, COVID policies have evolved with how much less severe COVID has been. And so, at least in my area and with at least one of my daughter’s schools, let’s pretend I had COVID (like I did about two months ago) if my daughter tested negative every single morning, she could still go to school. And so, if you have a similar policy in your region, or it might go to that at some point, you want to stock up on COVID tests because you go through a fair amount of them if you’re testing every day to send kids to school on top of actually testing the sick kids.

Similar to the medicine, when there are upticks in COVID cases, the tests become harder to find. So it’s a nice way to stock up. You can also take advantage of more free programs to get those tests through. At least as I’m recording this in October, the federal government is giving out free tests, and so is actually at least my state in Minnesota. The state government is also giving free tests. So if you have the freedom right now to not need the tests right away, you can save a bit of money by stocking up through those free options as well.

So that’s tip number one, stock up on medicine and tangential things that you might want as well. And also consider getting stuff for yourself because, unfortunately, sometimes we go down with it, so you’re gonna want some of that comparable medication on hand for yourself as well.

One final thing on tip one that I want to say is really remind yourself to do that soon. So what I like to do when I’m listening to a podcast like this that I get an idea of something and I actually want to follow through on is I’ll use Siri (or if you don’t have an iPhone, the comparable thing) where I will just, if I’m driving or walking my dog, will be like, “Hey, Siri, remind me in half an hour to stock up on medicine for the kids in case they get sick.”

Obviously, I’m probably not gonna do that in that half-hour period of time, but at that point usually I’m back at a desk and can put in my calendar when I’m going to do it, or in this scenario, I can at least be in my kitchen and can tell Alexa to add the certain medications to my shopping list so that next time I order it’s all there.

All right, so just a random tip for ya. But if you want to bring that to life and follow through, that’s a way that you can do it!

Tip #2: Research and Decide on Childcare Backup Options – 6:42

Okay, turning to tip number two is to research and decide on your childcare backup options now to the best you can. I mean, this isn’t gonna be perfect but to the best you can, just understand what your options are and line up things to the extent it makes sense so that you’ve done that research ahead of time when you’re also not dealing with a sick kiddo. I’m gonna talk about this a little bit later in this point. Really plan the critical things only when you have backup. I’m gonna add to that, if you have a partner, to plan the most critical things only when that partner is available for backup and it’s on their radar that they are on backup because it’s just gonna reduce your stress a whole lot more if the most, most, most critical things that you have to do are in a time when that person can play backup. So we’re gonna talk more about that, but that’s the summary of tip number two.

So really what I mean by all of this is, before the illness strikes (like right now) is just to understand those options. If you’re not sure what yours are, calendar one, two, three hours of time to figure it out. It doesn’t have to be a three-hour block, but over time, really protecting that time to figure it out now. This is gonna really vary probably by your industry, your company, who you work for, your ability to have partner support, your ability to have family support, some people have sitters that are open to watching sick kids, all of those options. You want to get a handle on what are all of your options before you kind of come up with a default plan.

So, for example, in the medical field, some hospital systems or maybe staffing groups also provide backup care through the hospital. And so, they’re providing backup care for your sick child so that you can still work. And so, if you are in the medical field or, really, any field, look into it and ask HR. I’ve also found some companies have great HR groups. Sometimes you want to do your own options as well just so you understand what they are. It might just be extra pay to help you cover the higher cost of childcare coverage for a sick kid. So there might be a variety of different options out there that your company might provide, but you might need to do a little bit of digging, and again, it’s better to do that digging now, before you have a sick kid at home who needs more of your attention and you’re not quite so stressed.

If your company doesn’t provide that, I have also heard from other women who do have, as I mentioned, sitters who will still watch kids even when they’re very sick. Someone wrote in and said, “The way we do it is by creating redundancy in the system. We have three babysitters that we use at least two days a week each (so they come in the mornings), and when someone is sick, one of them is usually able to stay, if not for the full day, most of it.” Someone else mentioned that Care.com has some childcare providers who are open to caring for kids who are sick, and so, you just kind of want to start exploring some of these options now so that you can set things up.

So let’s say that you go on Care.com. You find someone who’s open to watching a sick kiddo. Just think about the reality of what that’s gonna look like down the road. Likely, if you could get that person in a number of times before you might need them when they’re sick, then your kid’s gonna be more comfortable with them when they’re sick, and you’re not gonna be introducing the person to the kid when they’re sick, the kid’s freaking out, the person doesn’t really know them and know their nuanced approach to things, and it just makes it a lot smoother if you’ve kind of had the opportunity to create and establish that relationship before the kid is sick. By thinking about this stuff now and getting this person into the fabric of your family as you move forward, that can be really, really helpful for when you need the help down the road.

It also gives you the freedom to really talk to them and be open about what their parameters are. Do they really mean sick? If a kid is throwing up, are they okay with that? If they have diarrhea, are they okay with that? If they have a fever of 103, are they okay with that? Are you okay with that? What’s all of this going to look like, and are they even willing to take a child to the Pediatrician? There are a lot of different nuances to this that if you just say, “Are you okay with a sick kid,” they might be envisioning a runny nose and say, “Yes,” and you just want to have the ability to really lay out what are all the options so that you know that you’re on the same page, and they don’t show up and they’re like, “Whoa, this is not what I meant,” and you suddenly lose the childcare you thought you had. Having the freedom to have these conversations in a pretty low-pressure environment before a kid is sick is really valuable so that you could all get on the same page and understand how it’s going. Maybe they’re okay but they ask for additional pay in those scenarios. You want to figure all of this out ahead of time, and doing this now versus, again, when your kid is actually sick at home gives you the freedom to find the right fit and hopefully even maybe two or three people who are the right fit for your family, so you have those extra layers of childcare backup.

I mentioned this before, but this is something that I just keep coming back to time and time again. The part that I can’t escape is that if you don’t have those people in your life, whether it’s a hired sitter or a grandparent, who are willing to take a kid, no matter how sick they are, then what you need to really think about is for the highest, most critical-priority things in your life, you need to plan those for a time when, if you have a partner, they are also available for backup. Let’s pretend that you have a sitter who’s okay unless a kid has a tummy bug, and you plan the most important presentation you’re gonna give or the most important hearing you’re gonna have for this quarter at a time. If you have a partner, they’re not available, and then of course the kid’s gonna get a tummy bug and be throwing up during that time, you suddenly have lost all backup care except for your other partner who’s also a parent and who will watch the child in that scenario. That is really, really stressful.

So, for example, when it comes to my stuff, when I agree to give a corporate workshop to a company, I only, only block that time when my husband’s available for backup. I will have to drag my feet before I get back to them so that I have my husband’s schedule, I can look at it, I can put on his calendar proactively, “You are in charge of the kids for backup during this period of time.” Whether it’s for a couple hours or a whole day, whatever it looks like, that needs to go on his calendar because, inevitably, it does happen. The kids get sick on that period of time and a lot of our childcare options disappear when a kid is really sick. I’m fortunate that I have a solid partner who I can lean on to say, “You need to take over. I have to go do this presentation.” It reduces everyone’s stress, even though it requires a lot of planning and a lot of frustration due to the much more limited availability I have to do those types of workshops. But inevitably, I am always so, so, so grateful. I limit myself to booking those types of things until I have that clarity of when someone can be backup.

In some ways, my husband’s schedule is super weird because it’s a big shift schedule, and there are a lot of cons come with that. But in some ways, it’s also nice and clear when I know he’s on and off. So you might not have that clarity, but if you can put things out, especially for an hour or a two-hour window and put on their calendar that they are booked at this period of time, just with any other meeting they’d have on their calendar, they’re able to protect that a whole lot better ahead of time than trying to scramble to help you if you were gonna be in charge of the kid during that time and suddenly they’re sick at home, if they can do that proactively instead of scrambling to help you in the moment, obviously, it’s a lot easier and less stressful for everyone.

Okay! So tip number one is to stock up on the medicine and other things like that. Tip number two is to research and decide on your childcare backup options and then plan the most critical things only when you have the type of backup we’ve talked about.

Tip #3: Decide Whether or Not to Separate Your Sick Kids – 15:00

Tip number three is a weird one, but it’s really worth mentioning because it does affect the amount of time that you might be dealing with sickness, and it definitely affects stress levels. Decide whether your approach is going to be keeping a sick kid and, if you have multiple kids, the healthy kids separate or not. Now, this obviously varies by how old your kids are. If you have a tiny, little newborn baby, you’re gonna try and protect them from the germs more than you would a two-year-old. Also, it depends on the type of illness. I’m pretty laissez-faire now about anything other than tummy bugs. If it’s a tummy bug, I’m like, “I’m gonna try my best to keep you apart even though it’s likely a losing battle.” Almost everything else, as we’re gonna talk about much more, let’s just share the germs.

This sounds maybe random, but it really does impact your time and the amount of time that you might be dealing with sickness in your home because in the beginning, obviously when you have a baby you can try and keep them a little more separate. But I kind of continued that for too long. I kept thinking, “Okay, it’ll just be easier if one of my kids doesn’t get sick. We’ll be done with it sooner. So let me keep them separate.” That sounds easy enough in theory, but it’s weirdly stressful.

I mean, anyone who’s tried before understands this where you’re like, “Don’t sit so close! Don’t touch each other! Don’t drink from the same water!” And you just kind of always police the situation in a way that’s just kind of stressful for everyone. It doesn’t really work. A problem that I found out, at least in our family, most of the time, not every time, but most of the time when I keep kids separate, all that happens is that the healthy kid gets sick but much later than the other kid. So the first kid’s almost better, and then we start all over again with the second sick kid. And so, instead of you being done all at once, you really elongated the period of time you’re dealing with it.

So, to me, I’ve found having two kids was so hard in terms of germs, especially when they were both little, because the number of germs coming in your house is doubled, if even more. It’s even more than doubled. When you have a little kid, I feel like there are more germs coming in because their immune system isn’t as strong, so suddenly you have even more coming in with the youngest if they go to daycare, too. And then you’re prolonging the illness because they domino effect each other, but if you keep them separate you’re separating out the dominos, so it happens later. And so, the total amount of time that you’re dealing with sick kids is a lot longer than if they both got sick at the same time.

So now, my approach is kids share water bottles because it feels inevitable to me that, for the most part, they’re both gonna get sick. And so, the closer in time we can deal with it, then the less period of time overall they have it. Obviously, there are exceptions to this. Tummy bugs, even when my daughter — probably this winter will be the first that I care a little bit less about it, but RSV is very scary, even more scary to me than COVID now. And so, just things like that that you can kind of come up with your own rules that are personal to you, but kind of be thinking about it ahead of time. “Do I care if my kids both get this? Am I gonna try and keep them separate or not?” Just thinking about the long-term impact this might have on you.

I’m not saying to sacrifice a kid just so you can get back to work and they get really sick. But I just mean it feels inevitable that they both get sick most of the time. And so, let’s just deal with that. Let’s just accept that reality and then just not be so stressed about keeping kids apart. You don’t have to encourage sharing water bottles. I say that a little tongue-in-cheek and jokey. But you also don’t need to be overly stressed about keeping them separate, like when one sneezes in the other’s face or the other one shoves their fingers in the other’s mouth. It’s just a lot less stressful if you’re not trying to keep them apart. And so, I just share this for you for your own sanity as well as the time management element.

Tip #4: Have a Time Management System in Place – 18:56

Okay! Tip number four is to have a solid time management system in place, and I know that sounds so self-serving, and I’m not gonna go into it in a lot of detail because obviously it’s like everything that I teach, but I really want you to hear this. Sick kids, as we all know, throw a major curveball at you, and if you are already overworked and feeling stressed, adding a sick kid into that is a very stressful disaster. And so, what I want you to hear is that I would like your baseline, non-sick days not to feel already so overwhelming so that you have the breathing space and can handle the chaos that a sick kid brings. It’s never gonna be like puppies and rainbows as you go through it, but you’ll be in a more solid place from which to deal with a sick child if you’re not already overworked.

The only way I have found to get there is to have a solid time management system in place that helps me understand my capacity and my current workload and the time cost and the energy cost of new options that I’m considering and whether to say yes or no to them. All of that has ripple effects on how I draw boundaries and show up and my energy levels and all of that. And so, all of that is an important foundation from which I can absorb the shock of having a sick kid at home and what that does to the whole workload.

So I’m not gonna go into that further, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that. One of the things you can do now to prepare for sick-kid season is to make sure your workload is manageable. And to do that, the only way I have found to do that in a consistent way that works for my brain is to use The Bright Method. But if you have a different system, go for it! But just understand that. Understand that we’re about to go into (if you’re not already there) germ season, and you want to be really mindful of keeping workloads manageable right now and also having some of that flex in your system so that you can absorb those curveballs that will hit us with sick kids at home.

#5: Create Emotional Reserves – 21:07

Okay, tip number five is a little bit related to that but a little bit more theoretical, but I think of it as a practical way. Intentionally create emotional reserves so that you have the emotional bandwidth when things strike. This just goes a little bit beyond just time management. It obviously relates. I think I, at least, have more emotional reserve when my workload is manageable. But I’m also talking about it a little bit more broadly.

So really thinking about how do I give myself more energy and protect that energy so that I’m more solid emotionally and can handle it when a sick kid comes home. Because it is an emotional thing when that happens. Obviously, it’s a logistical puzzle that you have to figure out and all this kind of stuff, but there’s a lot of disappointment and frustration and worry and stress about kids, and there are just a lot of emotions that hit when a kid is sick at home. And so, you want to have as much of a solid emotional foundation as you can.

And so, for me, that does come down to workload, as I said. So thinking about what activities we take on and things along those lines, but also I don’t drink alcohol very much anymore unless I’m out with friends, and I should say out with friends at night without my kids. That doesn’t happen a whole lot. I’ll socialize with friends a lot, but during the day, so I’m really only drinking typically once a week to once a month, usually more like once a month in my life right now just given my socializing. That really helps protect my sleep, which obviously has an impact on my energy but also just my energy and my emotions. I’ve really noticed now that I don’t drink as much, when I do drink, that depressive effect the next day is a lot stronger than maybe I used to realize or used to feel. Now that I’m 38, maybe I’m just older and it hits me more. Whatever it might be, I’ve realized the impact of that.

So, basically long story short, I’m picking and choosing when I have coffee, when I have chocolate, when I drink alcohol based on what it does to my sleep and energy because it has major ripple effects on my emotions and how I feel in my day-to-day life. I don’t pretend that it’s perfect, but I really believe that, while it’s not perfect, I know I’m able to absorb those emotional punches more when I have that stability in my emotional life. And so, I just wanted to share that with you.

If you’re interested in more about that, I think of it as, to me, this all came out of this year of 2023 was really the year of ease. I wanted my life to feel that it had more ease in it, and a lot of these things relate to that. I have a podcast episode, it’s number nine, and I’ll also link it in the show notes if you want to check that out.

Recap – 23:54

All right! So that wraps up the five strategies that you can do now before your kids are sick.

  • Tip #1: Stock up on medicine and things that future you will want when you and/or a kid are sick.
  • Tip #2: Research and decide and just get an understanding of your backup options now and then plan those most critical things only when you have that solid backup in place.
  • Tip #3: Deciding whether you’re gonna keep sick kids or healthy kids apart, maybe depending on the scenario and things like that. It can just be helpful for you in terms of how long you might be dealing with sickness in the house and also just the stress of each of those days that you’re dealing with it. Are you going to be stressed out about keeping kids apart, or are you just kind of gonna accept that one?
  • Tip #4: Have that solid time management system in place so that your workload is manageable going into this stuff.
  • Tip #5: Intentionally creating emotional reserves so you have some of that emotional bandwidth when these things strike.

In the next episode, we’re going to talk about, okay, the sick kid is home, where do we go from there, how do we handle that from a time management perspective. I look forward to seeing you in that episode!

If you think a friend would enjoy this episode, please feel free to share it. I definitely think this is something that a lot of us struggle with, and we are inevitably going to struggle with over the next few months. And so, let’s help each other set ourselves up for the least amount of stress as we can through that situation.

All right, I will see you in the next episode and talk to you soon!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

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