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Should You Take a Sick Child Outside to Play?

by Christina Schnell, studioD

You know what your grandmother, and perhaps even your mother, would say: A sick child should be resting in bed, indoors -- and certainly not playing outside. While this may be true for children whose doctors have advised against going outside, the truth is that kids are much more intuitive than we give them credit for. In fact, according to HealthyChildren.org, operated by the American Academy of Pediatrics, if your tyke is antsy and energetic enough to be out of bed and playing calmly, it's probably okay for her do so.

What's Mild Enough to Play Outside

Some illnesses will leave your child too lethargic for much playtime, period. In which case, you should let her remain inside. According to Dr. Karl Neumann, editor of the International Child Health Newsletter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, many of the symptoms associated with minor illness, including minor fever, below 103 degrees Fahrenheit, cough and congestion, shouldn't prevent your child from playing outside, provided she's dressed appropriately for the weather. In fact, many states, including Alaska and California, actually advise daycare centers to encourage mildly ill children to play outside during recess.

Limitations of Outdoor Play

Fresh air and calm playing are fine for your mildly ill child, but that doesn't mean she should run around playing tag with the other kids. According to HealthyChildren.org, it's okay for feverish kids to be playing out of bed, if they're up to it, but your little one shouldn't exert herself by running around or racing to the top of the jungle gym. When playing outside, direct her toward less strenuous activities, such as making a snow castle or playing in the sandbox. To avoid infecting other kids, keep her away from other kids until she's fully recovered.

Weather Considerations

While a mild 68-degree day won't have much effect on your child's health, you should approach temperatures below freezing and above 85 degrees Fahrenheit with caution. Especially if your child has a fever, she shouldn't play outside in 97-degree heat. Assuming you dress your child warmly in thick snow pants and a jacket, hat and gloves, playing outside when it's cold isn't going to exacerbate her condition. That being said, it's important to note that all children, healthy and sick, should stay indoors when the temperature is below 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

When Playing Outside Isn't a Good Idea

Your decision about whether to let your tyke play outside should be based on her current condition, health history and your pediatrician's advice. Children who are recovering from bronchitis, pneumonia or other serious respiratory-related conditions should avoid going outside in extremely cold, dry weather. By the same token, if, on top of her illness, she has severe allergies to pollen or anything else that's primarily found outside, she should stick to indoor playtime.

About the Author

Christina Bednarz Schnell began writing full-time in 2010. Her areas of expertise include child development and behavior, medical conditions and pet health. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international relations.

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