3 Ways To Entertain Your Sick Toddler (And Keep Yourself Sane)

I’m standing in a tiny, overheated exam room at the pediatrician’s office. I’m covered in pink vomit and holding my son’s head over a tiny u-shaped basin the same color as his puke.  This is not my idea of a good time.  When the doctor finally comes in, she takes one look at us and sends for someone to clean up the mess.  When the incredibly kind tech has cleaned up the floor and handed me some paper towels with a look that tells me I’d need a lot more than paper towels to clean myself up, the doctor comes back.  She does a quick exam, administers the dreaded throat culture and tells us to go home.  It’s just a virus.

And away we go, taking our sentence to solitary confinement with us.  Because, the thing about a sick toddler is: he still wants to play.  He may be extra tired and extra, extra cranky but he’s still determined to follow his regular routine.   Thinking you can just tuck him up in bed with some warm apple juice and a snuggle is a rookie mistake.  But you do you have to keep his germs away from everyone else.  So, while he may be raring to go, you’re stuck inside with nothing to do.  No play dates, no classes, no trips to the library.  Nothing.  Which also means, no other adults to chat with.  All.  Day.  Long.

I’d like to tell you that parking your kid in front of the TV is the solution (and it may be for you, in which case you’re lucky), but my little guy refuses to watch TV.  He’ll sit for five minutes before clambering down off the couch saying, “Turn off, please.  What’s next?”  So I’ve got to get creative.

And I definitely don’t have the answer to getting through this without losing your mind slightly.  But I have discovered a few things that have allowed me to hold onto a little bit of my sanity which, let’s face it, is a victory.  So, in case your kid is currently climbing up the wall and onto the ceiling (from which vantage point he will proceed to puke on your head), try a few of these activities.

1. Art projects

Because he’s sick (and because he’s a toddler), his attention span is going to be pretty short.  So just pull out a few art materials (crayons, markers, stickers, glue) and set them out for him to use and come back to throughout the day.  Sometimes I initiate the activity by saying that I’m going to do some drawing, and sitting down at the table and getting to work.  This allows him to come and go as he pleases without feeling like he’s being asked to sit at the table for an activity (which may make him feel cranky and annoyed).  Depending on how ambitious you’re feeling (and how up for it your toddler seems) you can also take on a larger, messier project since you don’t have anywhere to go anyway.  Recently, we tried some paper mache, which was a big hit.  Actually, I think he would have enjoyed just ripping up newspaper all afternoon.  So, there’s another idea.  You’re welcome.  Don’t try to actually make anything.  Just let him play with the art materials.  (It’s a good idea to keep some things in reserve for days like this so that he’s excited to see a new box of markers, or sheet of stickers.)  The point is to keep him (and you) entertained, not to work on Grandma’s Christmas present.

2. Do some cleaning

You’re stuck in the house anyway, you might as well get something done, right?  Give your toddler the dustpan and brush while you sweep with the big broom, then trade.  Let him dust with the duster and press the button to turn on the vacuum.  Give him a baby wipe while you break out the cleaning wipes and work together on wiping down surfaces in the kitchen, the bathroom, anywhere really!  Run a load of laundry and ask him to find all the matching socks.  Go through his clothes and pull out things that he’s outgrown.  Let him “fold” the rest of his clothes.  All this cleaning will keep you occupied (which is half the battle really) and it’ll provide him with enough novelty (assuming this isn’t what you spend every day doing) to keep him entertained for a while.  Plus, now your home will be nice and clean.  Until someone goes and pukes on the rug.

3. Go for a walk

Even if your toddler seems like he’s full of energy, he actually needs to rest in order to get better.  So strap him into the stroller and go for a walk.  This gets you both out of the house and breathing some fresh air, but it also gives your toddler a chance to sit still and rest.  If he falls asleep in there, so much the better, but if not, he’ll probably get pretty mellow after a while (he really does need a rest!).  If it seems like he’s wide awake, talk about the things you pass along the way, or hand him interesting objects like leaves, acorns, or rocks to examine.  And if, by chance, you happen to pass a coffee shop and your wallet magically appears in your hand and you find yourself uttering the words “I’d like a large coffee please,” and you walk out with a steaming cup of delicious coffee in your hand well, that’s just the beauty of going for a walk.


Don’t worry, the playgroups and classes will still be there when your little guy is feeling better.  And if you find yourself sobbing into the neck of your kid’s art teacher and blubbering about how much you’ve missed her, don’t worry.  I’ll bet she gets that all the time.