How to Be Compassionate When Your Big Kid is Sick

How to be compassionate when your big kid is sick

As I mentioned before, there’s a new little life in our household. Baby Liana is healthy as can be, though she’d already suffered through her first cold before she was 2 months old.

Our 4-year-old son, however, has been sick more times than I can count. If you have little kids, you know. It’s ridiculous. The first few years are just a total snotfest.

In fact, one of my nicknames for Z is Boogie. Not because he loves to dance (that’s what my sweet, innocent mom thought), but because, until he was about 3, he almost always had a nose full of boogers. Guuuuuhross.

Anyway, Liana is still pretty little. If she gets really sick, I’m going to be a wreck. I have anxiety, and anytime something is wrong with the girl I go all worst-case-scenario and freak the heck out.

The other day I took her to the doctor because one of her hands was randomly turning red and looked puffy, and then it would go away and come back. I was imagining that she had some kind of crazy blood clot that was slowly making its way to her brain.

I’m not kidding. The doctor had to explain away a few concerns like that that I brought to her.

When Z was Sick, Pre-Liana

Sick boy in bed with mom
Sick little guy gets snuggles from Mom

So my little man and I have always had a very close, loving relationship. It used to be that when he was sick, I just figured I’d get it anyway and I gave him the same amount of hugs and snuggles as I would have if he were healthy. 

One night in particular, I held him in my arms as he puked all over my chest. I didn’t put him down, even though I was grossed out, because he was so super sad and in pain. I’m sure many of us have been there, or somewhere close.

I wanted him to know that I would always be there for him, regardless of the circumstances.

But then, along came Liana.

When Z is Sick, Post-Liana

worried mom
Ahhh crap.

Of course, Liana’s arrival did not take anything away from my desire to ensure Z knows I’m always here for him. That’s not the issue.

The issue is that the girl is brand new. Her immune system is pretty fragile. From what I understand, it’s almost solely dependent on the antibodies I pass to her through my breastmilk.

She’s got no defenses if she catches some bug my body isn’t defending itself against.

I still don’t shy away from Z if it’s just the two of us hanging out, because like I said above, Liana is protected better if I’ve caught the cold.

But how often are we hanging out without the baby attached to me in some way?

Way less often than before!

So when I’m nursing, I make him stay away. When I’m holding her, I ask him to keep his distance. If he’s nearby and he sneezes or coughs, I cover her face and turn away from him.

Yowza, that all feels so darn mean!

But it’s my job to protect the little one, isn’t it?

How can I keep her from getting Z’s colds while, at the same time, being compassionate toward my sick big kid?

Wash Those Darn Hands!

Washing hands
Wash them! Get up right now and do it.

Everybody. Wash your hands. All the time.

With all of my anxieties, one would think that I constantly wash my hands and make Z and Josh do the same.


I am surprisingly not on top of that.

We need to get into a routine of washing our hands after sneezing, coughing, and after coming home from preschool.

Especially after coming home from preschool. Ew! That place is germtastic.

I think if we make it a routine even when we’re not sick, it’ll feel less like an attack when Z does bring home some nasty bug.

Give Gentle Reminders

Pleeeeease remember not to sneeze directly into your sister’s face. Please.

I’ve definitely found myself snapping things like, “Not in her face, Zachary!” when he gets too close to Liana.

I bet it would make a huge difference if I just calmly reminded him that we don’t get in Liana’s face.

This may not seem fair to him because I’m always all up in her business, but I did explain to him that because she gets her food from my body, she’s protected against germs that I might have. Hopefully he understands that—he acts like he does.

Keep Up the Snuggles

Mom and son snuggling
Not us. I have very few photos of us together nowadays. Pretend this is us, snuggling.

The impulse to recoil from my snotty, sneezy, coughy boy has to be squashed. As I said before, I still try to snuggle with him and be physically affectionate when Liana’s not attached to me.

I have to keep that up.

Honestly, it can be hard! As soon as he sneezes or coughs, my first thought is not, “Aw, he needs a hug.” It’s, “Ack! Retreat!”

I think that resisting that initial reaction is a must, as difficult as it can be.

So I guess, in the end, this issue is like many others. I just takes effort and awareness.

We have to be aware of what our kiddos need from us, and we have to be aware of how our actions are or are not meeting those needs.

It’s super important to keep everyone healthy. But it’s also super important not to make our sick kids feel like pariahs.

What are some of your strategies for keeping your littlest ones healthy, while not making your bigger kids feel bad for being sick?

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8 thoughts on “How to Be Compassionate When Your Big Kid is Sick”

  1. Great tips! I have found making my kids wash their hands ALL the time has really helped in preventing them getting sick as much. Old school works, I guess! 🙂

  2. This must be such a tricky road to navigate. When it’s just the one kid, you avoid all other kids who might be sick. When it’s your own kid, things are different. Thanks for sharing your post.

  3. This was so hard for me. Not so much with being sick, but my daughter really struggled with giving me time to nurse the baby. And he was very distracted by her so it was a lose-lose scenario.

  4. Great tips, thank you. My middle child is home sick today and wants all the snuggles, but like you, my first reaction is “ew … keep the germs away in case I get sick and get the baby sick …” I’m going to try and push past that and snuggle her a little bit.

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