How do we manage the cold and flu season blues?

As we move into the beautiful colours and crispness of October, the inevitable season of colds and flus also begins. In early learning and child care environments, this season poses a dilemma for both parents and child care educators. Just like families, we believe that the best place for a sick child is home with someone who can individually care for them and respond to their needs. We also know very well that missing day after day of work because your child has yet another cold or flu may jeopardize a parent’s employment. When the parent still has to pay for the child care that they are not allowed to attend, it is a double blow. This is another reason why the cold and flu season is dreaded by everyone, and not just because it makes us sick.

At a recent team meeting at our Victoria Graduate program, we began to discuss strategies and perhaps a script that would help us talk to and support parents about their child’s health and at what point they should keep them home. We talked about temperature – is there a temperature that we could tell parents to keep their child home? Black and white rules are always the easiest. They are simple, straight forward and we don’t have to be vulnerable. It is about the rule and therefore, we can protect our relationship with our parents. At Compass, policies are important but we want to think beyond it and consider the intention of it as we keep in mind our core value that relationships are the foundation of all that we do.

Dianne, our Program Lead at Vic. Grad highlighted our belief about parents – that they know their children best and they are the experts on their child. Everyone agreed that this was what we fiercely believed. Our dilemma or conflicting value is present when we are in the position to make a troubling decision about whether a child is healthy enough to stay in program.

How do we react when we believe that a child should not be at the program, but the parent has brought them in? How do we support the family, while also supporting the child’s health needs? We decided to come together for another session. In the meantime, the educators would discuss the dilemma and come back with recommendations.

It was easy to list the reasons ill children deserve a quiet space with lots of attention when they are ill and why that should not be at a busy child care program. It was also easy for us to declare our belief that parents are the experts of their child. It was challenging to come up with strategies that honoured both. However, the following strategies emerged from our discussions:
1. Start with our view of the parent as the expert and that they have their child’s best interests at heart. Questions to ask – What symptoms should we look for? At what point should I call if your child begins to feel worse? Is there anything else you want me to know? What is the best phone number to reach you or is there an alternate caregiver?
2. Confirm that you know that they are the expert on their child and that you will be acting on their behalf, in their child’s best interest, during the day. Let the parent know that you will be monitoring their child’s health, and that you will check in with them to let them know how their child is doing. Let them know that you are partners in their child’s care.
3. Public Health has requirements on how we handle some infectious illnesses. When it is necessary to follow these requirements, be clear about the specific illness, and where the parent can find further information.
4. Provide information pamphlets regarding over the counter medications to let parents know of the risks. Just because they are over the counter does not mean they are safe for daily use.

These strategies are not one size fits all or magical. They will not make the child better, decrease the incidence of infection, help employers be more understanding, or prevent illness. They will build a strong bond between educators and parents that makes the effort worthwhile and honourable. It will create more open communication built on trust and learning. When we have that bond, difficult conversations are easier.

As educators, we hope parents will always understand that as we are holding their precious ill child in our arms, we are full of the same care and concern as they are.

Written by: Sheila Olan-MacLean, CEO in collaboration with Victoria Graduate Educators