Caring for your child when they are poorly - Better Lives Healthy Futures

Caring for your child when they are poorly

Children can pick up a range of common illnesses while their immune systems are still developing. Watch our videos below to find out more about how to treat some of the most common illnesses including coughs, sore throats and fever, and when to see a doctor.
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If your child has a cough but is eating and drinking as normal, breathing as normal and not wheezing, it is normally nothing to worry about. The cough should clear up on its own.

See your doctor if:

  • The cough lasts longer than three weeks.
  • Your child has a high temperature as well as the cough.
  • Your child is generally unwell as well as the cough.

Read more about coughs, colds and ear infections.


Colds should clear up on their own within around five to seven days, but sometimes they can take longer.

To help your child when they have a cold you can:

  • Give them plenty of fluids.
  • Saline nasal drops can help relive a stuffy nose.
  • Paracetamol or ibuprofen can help to relieve symptoms of the cold.

Read more about coughs, colds and ear infections.

Sore throats

A sore throat is a common symptom of a cold and usually can become sore or dry a few days before the cold develops. You can give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with the sore throat. Go see your doctor if it lasts for more than three to four days.

Diarrhoea and vomiting

Diarrhoea and vomiting is usually caused by a stomach bug, children can have one of both symptoms and it usually passes in a few days. To help your child when they have diarrhoea and/or vomiting:

  • Give them plenty of fluids to stop them becoming dehydrated. If they are being sick offer them little and often.
  • Keep them at home and let them rest.
  • If you are breast of bottle feeding, continue to offer the feeds. Again, if they are being sick offer them smaller feeds but more often.
  • Offer them food, again little and often if they are being sick.
  • You can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve symptoms.
  • Wash hands regularly.
  • Wash any bedding or clothing from your child separately, on a warm wash.

Diarrhoea and vomiting can spread easily, it’s important to keep them off nursery or school for 48 hours after symptoms have stopped. Read more advice about diarrhoea and vomiting.

Ear ache

The most common cause of an ear ache is an ear infection. Signs of an ear infection can be:

  • Your child might rub or pull at their ear.
  • Having a temperature.
  • Being irritable.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Loss of balance.
  • Unable to hear some sounds.

To help you can:

  • Give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • Place a warm or cold flannel over the ear.
  • It’s important not to put anything in the ear or try to remove any wax.

Go see the doctor if there is any swelling or discharge from the ear, or if it hasn’t cleared in three days.

Read more about coughs, colds and ear infections.


A child’s normal temperature is between 35 and 37 degrees.

If a child’s temperature is over 38 degrees, they have a fever. They may also:

  • Be hot to touch, especially on their back or chest.
  • Be sweaty or clammy.
  • Have red cheeks.

You can use a digital thermometer to check a child’s temperature. To check a temperature using a digital thermometer:

  • Place the thermometer under the armpit and against the skin.
  • The instructions with the thermometer will tell you how long to leave the thermometer in place for.

A temperature should come down on its own after 3 – 4 days. Whilst your child has a temperature:

  • Give them plenty of fluids.
  • Give them food if they want it.
  • Check them regularly, particularly through the night.
  • Giving them paracetamol or ibuprofen can bring their temperature down.

If your child is eight weeks or under and has a temperature over 38 degrees it is important to take them to see the doctor.

Or if your child is between three and six months and has a temperature of over 39 it is again important to take them to see the doctor.

If your child has a rash, loss of appetite, or their temperature doesn’t come down after taking paracetamol or ibuprofen, take them to see the doctor.


Please see our COVID-19 information page for up-to-date guidance on where and how to seek help if your child has COVID-19.

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Further information

Staying well

The Trust's Stay Well site offers lots of useful guides on caring for you and your little ones, from treating coughs and colds to caring for your mental wellbeing. It also has links to other useful information.

Feeling Poorly Booklet

Coughs, colds and constipation can often be managed at home. This leaflet offers advice on these and more.


Handwashing is an essential skill for children of all ages so it's important to make it part of toddler's everyday routine.

Coughs, colds and ear-infections in children

It's normal for a child to have a few colds a year because there are hundreds of different cold viruses and young children have no immunity because they've never had them before.

Diarrhoea and vomiting

Diarrhoea and vomiting are common in children and babies. They're often caused by a stomach bug and should stop in a few days.

Treating a fever (high temperature) in children

A high temperature can be quite worrying for parents and carers, but most children recover with no problems after a few days. See NHS Choices for more details.

Medicines for babies and children

If your child does need a medicine, it's important they have one that's right for their age and you know how to give it to them safely. The NHS website offers a useful guide.

Meningitis - signs and symptoms babies and toddlers

This site guides on spotting the early signs and what to do.

Meningitis - signs and symptoms in children and adults

This website guides on identifying signs of meningitis in children and adults.

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