Do I Have to Babysit My Sister's Sniffly Kids?

Filed under: Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Tweens, Expert Advice: Teens

Dear AdviceMama,

My sister's kids seem to always have the sniffles. I feel awful turning her down when she wants me to watch them for her, but I worry that my kids will get sick if they come over. What should I do?

Trying to Stay Sniffle-Free

Dear Sniffle-Free,

How about buying one of those handheld ultra-violet sterilizing devices, and using it to "disinfect" your nieces and nephews before they enter your house?

Just kidding ...

I sympathize with you. It's hard to turn down a sister in need, but it's tough feeling like you're inviting an invasion of germs into your home to contaminate you and your own kids.

Here's my advice:

• Take an honest look at whether your fears are justified. The best way for children to develop healthy immune systems is develop antibodies by being exposed to germs. So if it's just a case of the sniffles, it may be fine for your kids to play with their cousins, provided they practice good hygiene.

• Teach your children -- and their cousins -- healthy habits. Encourage your children and their cousins to wash their hands frequently and to avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Teach them to sneeze and cough into tissues and to then throw them away, and let them know that they aren't to drink out of the same glass or share utensils.

• Keep things clean. Use cleaning products to wipe down toys, handrails, doorknobs and any surface where grubby hands tend to leave sniffly germs. Encourage your children to get in the habit of using child-friendly hand sanitizers when they're away from hot water and soap.

• Set expectations you can live with. Kindly tell your sister that if her kids are too sick to go to school, you're not comfortable watching them unless she (and her kids) are OK playing apart from their cousins. But realize that nearly all kids get at least a couple of colds each winter, whether it's from siblings, cousins or classmates.

Some children sniffle their way through an entire winter, and not always because they're sick. Dry air, sinus issues or allergies can cause chronic runny noses in some children.

By teaching good hygiene, keeping things clean around the house, and separating your kids from their cousins if they really are sick, you should be good to go for a mostly sniffle-free winter. And if they do catch a cold, don't forget the chicken soup. It works wonders!

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.
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