Last night we had a fever emergency for Four (our 4-year-old). Little guy woke up crying hard at around 1 am with a fever of just over 102 degrees, defined as “Moderate” by pediatric health experts — anything higher than 102.2, and you should call your doctor. But, as much of the literature will tell you, fevers in and of themselves arent usually dangerous — as long as they dont exceed the Moderate range — and so it’s important that we treat the fever seriously but remember that our little patient requires special care.

Top 5 Middle-of-the-Night Fever Remedies, in the order we applied them:

  1. Cool, damp washcloth applied to neck, forehead and temples, repeatedly
  2. Popsicle
  3. A Gatorade slushie
  4. Ice cream run through the blender
  5. Bath and, as a bonus item:
  6. Children’s medicine to reduce fever — only to be used if the fever is around 102.

I’ve found it best to apply these remedies liberally. Once you take the child’s temperature the first time, it does wonders for your sense of worry to get the fever down as much as possible before taking his temperature again. And as we all know, kids sense our worries pretty quickly.

For the same reason, I think it’s important to make the middle-of-the-night fever seem as ordinary as possible to your toddler. Get him out of his room, turn on some dim lights, and get to work as Daddy Doctor on the couch in front of the TV. Even though you can sometimes find an appropriate cartoon on the Disney/Nick Jr/Cartoon Network group of channels, this is a good time to put a kids DVD or your TIVO’ed programs to use. You dont want to be channel surfing at the turn of the hour, when Scooby Doo ends and something violent or otherwise inappropriate comes on while your child is running low on his slushie or needs to run to the bathroom.

By treating the situation as calmly as you can, you are putting your child in a peaceful setting and giving him the opportunity to show you when he starts to feel better. Many toddlers have a hard time calming down if they’ve been woken up by a fever; they may have had a nightmare, or they may just react to the overall crappy feeling with a nonstop crying jag.

The site linked above — KidsHealth.org — points out that, while the fever is an important symptom, the associated behaviors are just as important to monitor. What you’re looking for in your child, to be sure your treatments are successful, are these factors:

  • still interested in playing
  • eating and drinking well
  • is alert and smiling at you
  • has a normal skin color
  • looks well when his or her temperature comes down

So creating a comfortable environment enables you to watch for these additional symptoms, and to be on the lookout for other symptoms, which, regardless of fever, may require medical attention. The link above includes a detailed list of warning signs, including vomiting, persistent fever, rashes, severe headaches, limpness or difficulty breathing, among others.

But lets say your child accepts your treatment. If he’s laying on your bed in the dark, still crying or just upset, you’re not going to encourage him to act normally and therefore present the kinds of behavior you’re looking for to ease your mind that he’s OK. This is why it’s important to provide that comfortable environment.

Last night, by the time little Four got to the bath stage, he was starting to feel better. He stopped crying somewhere between the popsicle and the ice cream, spurred on by a particularly funny episode of Ren and Stimpy. In the bath, we didnt want to over-stimulate him so much that he wouldnt want to go back to sleep, so as a toy we introduced a purple washcloth. You may laugh — but this kept him occupied for about 20 minutes, which was about as long as the tub kept the lukewarm water at a good temperature. As he played, he became more and more active and eventually began laughing and generally having a hell of a good time with his washcloth — experimenting with the physics of it — laying it flat on the surface of the water, tossing it against the tiles and splashing water on it until it slipped back into the bath, and turning it into a little ball.

By this time, he gladly accepted the thermometer under his tongue and the fever had come down to 99 degrees and he was ready to get back in bed. We were all relieved, and the rest of the night was uneventful.

But if we had kept him in his bed during his treatment, or made too big a deal of it in front of him, we might not have seen so clearly the results of what we were doing for him. This is especially important, and perhaps counter-intuitive, for these middle-of-the-night fevers, when we have to be a bit more deliberate in taking the necessary steps to allow him to show interest in playing, to smile and laugh, and to react in an alert way to his surroundings.

As divorced dads, we are often criticized no matter what we do in these circumstances. The general attitude seems to be that as fathers we are bound to miss something important or wait too long to react. But as parents, we know that our concerns are real. It can sometimes be tough to balance our intuition (dads have intuition, too) with the worry that comes from repeated criticism, but by remembering a few simple rules of thumb, and by not being afraid to trust ourselves, we can see, in our children, how successful we can be at the most important tasks of parenthood. We may not be able to spend every night with our kids, but by being ourselves, we’re not only providing critical care but also the kinds of memorable moments that we, and our kids, can look back on with pride and comfort.

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