Give good medicine Being sick is hard enough -- it's nice if the medicine doesn't make your child feel worse. Ask your pediatrician to suggest over-the-counter remedies that are long-lasting or taste good, such as ones that come as lollipops or quick-dissolving strips.
Don't jump straight to the drugstore remedies, says Neil Schachter, M.D., author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds & Flu. For a cough, start with liquids (like soup, or tea for older kids who like it) to wash away the mucus, and then an old-school antihistamine like Benadryl, which often works better than some newer ones on the market. Only if those don't do the trick should you turn to a cough suppressant.
Bend some house rules Whether that means giving your child some ginger ale or letting her snuggle with the dog on the couch, special privileges can bring comfort and cheer. Kellie Pease, a mom of three in Derby, Connecticut, sets up a sick-day-only snack table next to the living room sofa. "Since they're normally not allowed to eat or drink anywhere but the kitchen, it's a real treat," she says. "It also gets them to eat and drink better."
Try some home remedies Theresa Duda, a mom of three, ages 6, 4, and 2, and a pediatric nurse-practitioner in Portland, Oregon, swears by warm, steamy baths about 30 minutes before bedtime to loosen chest or nasal congestion and to help relax kids' bodies. If your child doesn't have sensitive skin, a little eucalyptus or lavender essential oil added to bathwater can help open airways and provide a calming effect. (Always store essential oils well out of kids' reach.)
Other easy ways to help your kid feel better, from Patricia Carroll, author of What Nurses Know and Doctors Don't Have Time to Tell You:
For a stuffy or dry nose: Squirt a solution made from 2 cups warm water and 1 teaspoon salt up her nose through a bulb syringe.
For a sore throat: If she's old enough to gargle, try a mixture of 8 ounces warm water, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon baking soda. (Baking soda cuts the mucus that causes the pain.)
For sinus pain: Use a heating pad wherever she's feeling pressure. Or make your own by heating water and soaking washcloths in it.
Make the bed more welcoming Give your child several layers of sheets and thin blankets so it's easy for her to peel them off to get cool or cuddle under them to stay warm. Plan on changing the sheets frequently, too. It's more laundry, but a fresh pillowcase just may lull a feverish kid to sleep. The final touch? Stuffed animals set up by your child's feet: Tell her they're there to watch over her and help her feel better.
Teri Cettina wrote "Great Car Games" for the August issue of Parenting.