My daughter had three bouts of strep throat in first grade. In second grade, she was starting on her second round of throat infections when we sat quietly in the doctor’s office and held hands. She looked up at me with tears dangling in her long lashes and said, “I’m sorry I’m sick, Mommy. I promise I’ll get better.”


Her words hit me hard with the awareness that she thought that her illness was an inconvenience to me – another problem in my day. Her words made me carefully and truthfully review what I had said, as well as my non-verbal language and my actions, to see how I was communicating a message to her that had her feeling guilty about simply being ill.

The evidence was fairly easy to find, and it led me to understand that with simple changes I could help keep my daughter from feeling needlessly guilty, while also helping her reduce the likelihood of additional illnesses. They're simple things that we all should be doing to help our children feel better and be healthier.

1. Smile – I realized that when I approached my daughter when she was ill I looked worried or concerned. This, of course, helped make her feel worried and concerned. By simply smiling at her, I can ease her tension and create an attitude of wellness instead of sickness.

2. Use Positive Phrases – You already know how your sick child feels. Rather than repeatedly asking the obvious, try saying, “You look good,” or “You're doing better.” Asking “What’s wrong?” forces child to think about that. Asking “What’s good?” or “What’s right?” or “What’s feeling better?” encourages positive thoughts about feeling better.

3. Touching and cuddling – Yes, we're all busy and yes it is easy just to park a sick child in front of the television. But that does nothing to lessen the child's awareness of what a burden he or she is for you when sick. Children feel safer when we can touch, bond, and hold them when their world seems dreary. Studies show touching and bonding strengthen the immune system, literally. Sit and hold your sick child for some of that TV time. Put him or her on your lap and read a story together.


4. Do quiet time activities together – Undertaking quiet time activities together can help make both your child and you feel better. When my daughter was ill we drew pictures, colored designs, played card games, and watched the birds at the feeder through her window. These joint activities, rather than her illnesses, are times that she still remembers when we speak of childhood memories.

5. Envision health – Another quiet activity that we enjoyed was closing our eyes and pretending that our eyes had x-ray vision like Superman. My daughter would scan her body with her x-ray vision and tell me what parts felt better, what the tummy would like to eat, and how she was improving. It may sound like a silly activity, but recent studies have shown that for patients with serious illnesses, including cancer and immune system disorders, very similar healing imagery often has a positive effect. Thinking about being healthy can actually help our bodies be healthier, and that's exactly what we want for our children.

6. Listen – Stress weakens the immune system, and yet the things causing stress in our children’s lives often go unnoticed until they erupt into tummy aches, headaches, an accident, and more. Simply asking, “What's happening at school?” or “How are your friends?” or “What seems hard in your life right now?” can make a difference. As parents, we don’t have to fix it or make it better. Often, listening is enough!

There's no avoiding exposure to the viruses and bacteria that can lead to the common childhood illnesses. But we can protect against them. Giving our kids a healthy diet and making sure they get plenty of rest are some ways to do that. As important is providing a loving environment and minimizing stress. And if illness should strike, letting your child understand that your main desire is his or her good health, and not simply ending the inconvenience of having a sick child, can help make the process of getting well easier and quicker.


Dr. Goode, is a Tucson, Arizona based counselor and the author of five books, including Nurture Your Child's Dream. She often speaks and conducts workshops on inspired parenting and mind-body health. Her website is at

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