Tuesday 21 January 2020

Recuperating at home - what to do when your child is house-bound

What happens if your child is laid up with a broken leg or a contagious illness that prevents him from leaving the house? Occupational therapist Margot Barry offers some tips

It happens to every parent at some stage or the other that their child is recovering from illness or injury at home. More common illnesses such as flus and colds do not normally come as a big surprise; however, having a child at home for a longer period of time, for instance with a leg or an arm in a cast, can be a little out of the ordinary.

A child's ability to engage in self-care tasks that he or she has already mastered can be compromised and for a little while they might be more dependent on you than before the injury.

There are some small changes that can be made to the home environment and to tasks to maintain as much safety and independence as possible. Because the illness/ injury is normally transient, changes should not be excessive and permanent but rather small and reversible.


Some conditions require a child to use crutches temporarily, such as in the case of a broken leg. Using crutches to walk means that the child has a wider base of support and needs a little more space to move around the house.

Some children's balance can be affected and as a result it's important to create more space in the home and temporarily remove tripping hazards such as loose rugs, ornaments and other objects on the floor.

When using crutches, carrying objects such as a plate of food or a drink can potentially lead to spillage or tripping because both arms and hands are responsible for maintaining balance and carrying the child's body weight on the crutches.

As a result, it's helpful to plan how a child carries objects around the house. Items such as clothes and shoes could be carried in a rucksack on the child's back. Other items such as plates of food and cups of tea need to be carried for the child though cold drinks could be carried in a bottle in the rucksack.


If a child's dominant hand is in a cast, some basic self- care activities can be difficult to perform. these include brushing teeth, dressing and preparing a snack.

An electric toothbrush for example requires significantly less co- ordination to use than a manual toothbrush and as a result this might be the preferred option for a child who temporarily depends on the use of his/ her non- dominant hand.

For dressing, clothes with fasteners are the most challenging because both hands are necessary to open or close a button, zip or clasp. Furthermore tight fitting clothes can also be difficult to put on.

The parent and child could decide to choose loose fitting garments that have no fasteners for times when the child needs to be independent and, of course, a parent could assist with dressing at other times.

Jars and bottles with screw lids can be very difficult to open with the use of one hand. As a result, liquids such as juice and milk could be kept in jugs and food could be kept in containers that are easy to open with one hand to facilitate the child's independence in accessing a drink or a snack.


When a child must stay at home to recover from an illness that is contagious but does not make the child feel very ill, the child is at risk of becoming bored from the social isolation and also the lack of activities that school and other environments provide.

A parent could make use of technology such as Skype or other video call facilities to allow the child to speak to and see his/ her friends at times during the week.

Some video games also allow children to play against their friends remotely and this could provide some interaction with friends. It is advisable to plan some product- centred activities such as crafts or baking, where the child has a product to show at the end of the activity.

Product- centred activities can boost a child's self- esteem and provide the opportunity for creative expression and positive emotion by having a tangible outcome.

In a recovery period it is of course essential always to obey the doctor's and therapist's orders in any activity or accommodation that is being made.

Margot Barry is a qualified occupational therapist who has worked extensively with children, teachers and carers in various community settings for the past 15 years. She is clinical manager at Sensational Kids, a registered charity that provides family- centered therapy and educational services for children of all abilities in a state-of- the-art, one-of-a-kind occupational therapy centre in Kildare. For more information on Margot Barry or Sensational Kids visit www.sensationalkids. ie or find them on Facebook

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