Sick at Home: Quiet Activities so You Can Work

When children are sick at home, it puts working parents in a bind. You need to work, but your child, sick at home, is needy for your attention. Keeping a sick child occupied for longer than five minutes seems hopeless. At the same time, work calls and that call cannot be ignored. What you need for that child sick at home are some out-of-the-box activities, quiet enough to suit a child who is ill or even feverish.

Frustrated mom tries to work with sick child coloring while sitting on lap

Andrew Dodson is the father of a 4-year-old son named Charlie, and editor of Really Simple Guitar. As a musician, Dodson likes to incorporate music into sick at home activities for Charlie. “One of my favorite activities for Charlie is playing music for him and having him draw what he hears. We give him some basic instructions and then we know we have at least three to five minutes of steady drawing time. We can typically get him to listen to at least five songs. We start with fun kids’ songs that he recognizes, which makes drawing easier. But I’ll occasionally throw in something complicated—like jazz music—that forces him to get really creative.”

Screen time may not be a parent’s first choice for keeping a sick child occupied. Dodson, however, has found a way to at least make screen time engaging, educational, and well: musical. “If we do have to resort to some screen time, I do my best to find live performances of songs he likes, or music videos where it shows the musicians playing instruments,” says Dodson.

Sick at Home? Express those Feelings

Children sick at home may be feeling uncomfortable or unhappy. Mother of a two-and-a-half year old son, Lauren Levy O’Brien likes the idea of getting him to express those feelings. The founder of Aden’s Mom, a blog for new parents on the science of safe sleep practices, Lauren believes that getting the feelings out offers relief, and makes sick children feel better. “Our go-to activity is ‘drawing feelings’ together, says Levy O’Brien. “I trace a bunch of circles and make faces on them, similar to emojis. My son helps crayon each one a different color. Then we cut them out.

“Afterwards, he’ll happily self-entertain on the couch, lining up the circles on the cushions and pillows. If I need to extend his playtime, I’ll turn on a YouTube video about feelings. He loves to match up the ‘feelings’ on the screen with the ones we made.”

Okay, but what happens when your child is sick (pun intended) of dealing with his feelings? Levy O’Brien has a great idea to share. “Have a special stash of toys or activities that are just for when your child is under the weather. Be sure to keep these toys hidden away so that they feel fresh and exciting when you pull them out. Ideas for activities to keep your little one occupied might include coloring books, puzzles, craft supplies, dolls or cars, or even educational apps on your phone or tablet.”

children in pajamas play with building toys

Constructive Play

Nadia of This Mom is On Fire, believes in the power of constructive play. After all, playing with building toys is actually a constructive way to use up lots of time! “My favorite activity to keep kids sick at home busy to pass the time while I try to work is any activity related to building. Building with different materials like KEVA planks, Lego, of course, and KNEX, can keep sick kids engaged and creative for over an hour at a time.”

Is your child obsessed with anything that goes? When her three-and-a-half year old son is sick at home, Amanda McLaughlin knows that cars hold all the answers to her work needs. McLaughlin, a busy PhD with a young career coaching business, Beyond the Books, need not do much at all to keep her child occupied. “My son immediately goes to play with his cars. He builds tracks and parking garages.”

Even so, sometimes the boy gets bored with the same old things, and that’s when McLaughlin pulls the ace out of her sleeve, “My inexpensive secret…the tiny treasure drawer. I have a drawer filled with squishies, bouncy balls, figurines and other $5 and below items. He is offered one new treasure and it will have his attention for the day.”

girl in pajamas uses remote

Screen Time Limits May Fall by the Wayside and That’s Okay

Parents, in general, know that screen time needs limits, But Brian Donovan, CEO of a time share exit assistance business called TimeShatter, has a lot on his plate. That means different screen time rules when children are sick at home. I typically treat sick days as a day of either relaxed screen time hours, or strict bed rest instructions,” says Donovan.

“If I implement lax screen time rules, then I am more available to focus on tasks around the house. I also know this occupies my kid and keeps them happy even when they are unwell. If I choose to forgo this route in favor of other activities, I will offer suggestions to my child such as reading a book, drawing, catching up on homework, rest, journaling, or just simply relaxing. These options are quiet enough that children aren’t working their bodies, but are still able to entertain themselves.”

child colors in coloring book

Betsy Brook has a lot of experience with having kids under foot in her capacity as a stay at home, homeschooling mom. Still, it’s no time to push children to do schoolwork when they are not feeling their best. Brook, who also maintains a website, Little Beauties Home, goes old school. “In an age where most children are into electronics, this is a great, down time to re-introduce the simple and soothing act of coloring! Pull out the never or rarely used coloring books or print off some free coloring pages (Google favorite characters or cute animal free coloring pages).

“Along the same artistic lines,” says Brook,” is one that can easily be done while resting in bed or on the couch. There are numerous easy drawing tutorials for all levels on YouTube. My kids love the channel Art for Kids Hub.”

boy and girl look at photo album

Photo Albums

More ideas for kids sick at home? “If you have photo albums or photo books you’ve printed over the years, this is a great time to let your little one enjoy looking at them and they can relive their baby years, fun vacations or special holidays.

“Audiobooks are another awesome way to pass a lot of time. Your local library most likely has online free books or you can easily find some with a quick Google search. Give your kiddo some play-Doh or Legos to play with as they listen,” says Brook.

boy in homemade fort watches movie

Animated Movies in a Fort for Sick at Home Kids

Like Brian O’Donovan, Dave Cimon, Co-Founder of Costumes Heaven, believes that illness and being sick at home calls for relaxing screen time limits. “Watching movies is the best way to divert your little one’s attention away from the sickness,” says Cimon.

But this dad likes to add a twist to the screen time mix. “To make the movie-watching experience extra special, grab some pillows and blankets to customize a fluffy fort where children can snuggle all day long. Kids love building forts as it gives them a sense of reassurance. A pillow fort is ideal for cheering up your sick kid easily at home while fixing up their mood with classic animated movies.”

Another working dad, Brandon Walsh of Dads Agree, came up with an old yet novel idea for keeping kids entertained while sick at home. “The perfect game for sick children is a scavenger hunt,” says Walsh. “Parents can make this a fun activity by asking their children to find 15 objects in the house with the color yellow, with five of them starting with the alphabet B. Kids can roam through the house to look for the items you’ve hidden. Once children complete the scavenger hunt, parents can reward them with a chocolate or a cookie from the cookie jar.”

Puzzles are a terrific idea for kids sick at home, says Elizabeth Hicks of Parenting Nerd. “Puzzles require minimum effort and won’t make your kid feel tired. It’s also the best way to keep their mind active while they’re sick. What’s more, is that you can start or stop it at any time. So, if your children feel tired, they can stop and start again where they left off.”

Neurodiverse Children Sick at Home

When you have a large family, and throw neurodiversity into the mix, the challenges of keeping sick children entertained are magnified. “As a mother of five, I have dedicated my life to caring for my children, and never has this been more challenging than when one or more of my beloved kids is sick,” says Renee Rosales M.Ed., Founder and CEO of Theara. “In my case, we also add neurodiversity into the mix, which makes it even more important for me to find successful ways to keep my kids entertained, especially if they are unwell.”

Rosales likes to go with the theme of being sick at home by having her children play hospital. “If you have more than one child, they can take turns being doctor and patient, or you can set up a hospital full of stuffed animals. When they tire, and need to rest, playing patient is ideal,” says Rosales who cautions that parents should be prepared to divvy out lots of “unnecessary Band-Aids.”

girl plays with sensory box

The Individual Sensory Box

Another way to keep sick children occupied is a sensory box. Rosales suggests that parents who have more than one child, create a sensory box for each child, labeled with that child’s name. “Fill the box with a range of toys and activities which cater to different needs. For instance, some coloring, a couple of fidget toys, perhaps a favorite book, a weighted worm, a foam roller.

“Experiment and see what they like and encourage them to use the toys in the box if they feel stressed or overwhelmed,” says Rosales. “This will enable them to feel calm and soothed. The sensory box helps to regulate emotions, and your child will come to associate the box as something that helps them feel better when they are sick at home.

“Every child is individual. Tailoring the sensory box to your child can help you learn about that child’s unique needs. You will also come to have a good understanding of activities which they gravitate towards when they aren’t feeling their best, so you will know to provide them when they are home sick.”

It is never easy to see your child feeling less than their best. That unease adds to the difficulty of keeping up with your work. Any activity that keeps your child productively engaged for long periods is a boon. Activities that take your child’s individual personality into account are the best of all worlds for children who are sick at home. The time it takes to set up a quiet activity will repay you in happier children who get better quick, even as you get things done at your desk.

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.