Sick day activity ideas for kids with colds, flu or COVID-19 – CHOC

With illnesses like colds, flu and COVID-19 spreading throughout schools and communities, many kids may have to spend multiple days hunkered down at home as they rest, heal and prevent further spread.

But after a few days, they may grow tired of resting, laying around and watching TV.  

Here, we offer creative sick day activities — that reach beyond screen time — to help keep your kids entertained as their bodies get better. 

Sick day activities for kids ages 4 years and younger

If your young child is feeling bad and unable to do activities, it’s important to give them time to rest. If they aren’t feeling well, they may be more irritable than normal. If they are up to it, practice different activities in small doses, giving plenty of breaks to lay down. You may even consider setting up a workstation in bed that they can use for activities.

Don’t worry about extra screen time when your kids are sick. But, if they get bored or you want to give their eyes a break, some of these easy-going activities can do the trick:

  • Cuddle together — some comfort can go a long way when your child is feeling ill.
  • Play with toys – this can be a great time to engage with your kids and play with their toys together.
  • Do some kid-friendly yoga — you can find basic stretches online and the poses may even help your child feel a bit better.
  • Color or paint — download CHOC’s Choco coloring page for your kids to color.
  • Play ball pass with a soft, lightweight ball.
  • Name that noise — practice your child’s animal knowledge by making an animal sound and letting them guess it.
  • Play I spy — describe objects around you home and have your child guess what they are.
  • Take a lukewarm bath — baths can help reduce a child’s fever. To make bath time more fun, consider the following bath activities:
    • Have a toy car wash by adding some waterproof toys to the bathtub.
    • Animals at the watering hole – add some plastic animals to the bath, and even practice naming their sounds like mentioned above.
    • Have a glow-in-the-dark bath with glow sticks and fun music.
    • Add shaving cream, finger paints or bubbles to the tub.
  • Listen to kid-friendly podcasts or audio books — this can be a great way to entertain your child if they need to lay down and rest.
  • Have fun with cardboard boxes — a different environment, even in box form, can be exciting for kids who are bored. Consider the following activities using cardboard boxes:
    • Painting or coloring inside.
    • Decorate boxes to look cars and have your kids sit in them for a “drive-in movie,” right in your living room!  
  • Watch a caterpillar grow — with butterfly kits, which can be purchased online, you can watch a caterpillar grow and hatch in a span of 4-5 days. This can be a great learning experience and a consistent, daily activity for kids who are spending multiple days at home. 
  • Play doctor’s office with stuffed animals — this can be a great way to have fun while also explaining your child’s illness to them and explaing how they can get better.
  • Plan an activity to do after your child gets better — talk to your child about a fun, out-of-the-house activity that they can do once they are well and not contagious. 
  • Create an at-home scavenger hunt — leave clues around your home to encourage your child to get up and stretch their legs.

Sick day activities for kids ages 5 to 11 years

For kids ages 5 to 11 years, it might be nice to set up a modified, sick day routine for them to prevent boredom. With this routine, you can set up different “rest stations” throughout your home where your kids can watch TV, lay in bed or do some activities throughout the day. This way, they can spend time in a variety of new environments at home.

You can also create a routine for yourself, alternating between spending time with your child and accomplishing your daily tasks.  

Feel free to do any of the activities mentioned above that your kids ages 5 to 11 years may enjoy, plus:  

  • Cook together — get in the kitchen to make some nutritious snacks and meals using these recipes from a CHOC dietitian.  
  • Send happy mail — draw pictures and write letters to mail to your loved ones.
  • Build a fort — whether it be boxes or bedding, build a fort that your child can read or rest in.
  • Look at photo albums — your child may enjoy seeing their baby photos and other family memories.
  • Garden, picnic or collect and paint rocks outside — this can be a great opportunity for your child to get some sun and fresh air.  
  • Utilize online offerings — since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many companies started offering fun, educational and free online resources. See CHOC’s complete list of activity ideas for kids during COVID-19.
  • Make drawings or art projects based on favorite books and movies.  
  • Write down 10 things you’re grateful for — this can be a helpful way to embrace some positivity if your child is bummed out about being sick.   
  • Have a homemade spa day – your kids can soak their feet in a large bowl or bathtub, do some nail care, wash their faces or do a face mask.
  • Get treats delivered — get a special treat or meal delivered to your house via a food delivery service.
  • Learn origami — all you need is some paper and a free, online tutorial.
  • Practice relaxation and stress relief techniques — use CHOC’s anxiety and stress relief video series to help your kids feel physically and emotionally better.
  • Set up a call or zoom with out-of-town relatives — your child can receive some extra comfort from family when they’re sick.

Sick day activities for kids ages 12 and older

Teens and preteens may be more inclined to spend extra time watching TV and playing on their phones while they are sick. But to avoid eye strain and headaches, encourage your teens to take breaks and do other activities. Your preteens and teens may enjoy any of the other activities mentioned above, and the following:

  • Do puzzles and play board games.
  • Adult coloring books.
  • Set up a zoom to watch a movie or play an online game with friends.
  • Paint or do crafts — you can find hundreds of craft ideas online.
  • Go on walks — just make sure to properly social distance.
  • Talk and tell stories – this might be a rare opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with your teen!
  • Create funny presentations or slideshows — have your teen pick a funny topic of their choice to give a persuasive presentation about. For example, their presentation could be about why their favorite musical artist is superior to your family’s, what fictional characters best represent your friends or family or the top ten cutest animal pictures they can find. 
  • Learn a dance — use all the different choreographies available on social media to learn a fun dance together.
  • Plan a trip — whether it’s an upcoming trip or imaginary vacation, looking at hotels and activities in exotic locations can be a fun way to pass the time.
  • Create a stop motion animation — your teen can use household objects to animate a short video using their phone’s camera and a stop motion app.

Everything parents need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine for children and teens from the pediatric experts at CHOC

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