Whether your child has a tummy ache, a stuffy nose, or a bug bite, doctors say that old-fashioned home remedies are often the best way to help him feel better fast. These time-tested treatments rarely have side effects, cost next to nothing, and use items you probably already have on hand. “Some, like ginger and chamomile, have even been confirmed by scientific studies to have healing effects,” says Hilary McClafferty, MD, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ provisional section for complementary, holistic, and integrative medicine.
Of course, you should always call your pediatrician if your child’s problem seems serious. But the next time your child has a minor ache or injury, you can find these smart solutions all throughout your house.
Honey and Lemon Juice for a Sore Throat
Lemon dries up congestion and honey provides a soothing coating, says Lane Johnson, MD, associate professor of clinical family and community medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. In fact, a recent study found that a spoonful of honey eased kids’ coughs even better than cough medicine. Mix together a tablespoon of each, microwave for 20 seconds until warm (not hot), and have your child swallow the mixture a teaspoon at a time. Caution: Honey is not safe for babies under 1 year.
Chamomile Tea for Colic
Peter Rabbit’s mother fed him soothing chamomile tea in Beatrix Potter’s classic tale, and you can give it to your infant to relax her intestinal muscles and calm her down, says Dr. McClafferty, a pediatrician in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Steep tea for four to five minutes, let it cool to room temperature, and then put one to two ounces in a bottle. Don’t give your baby more than four ounces a day so that she’ll be sure to have plenty of room in her tummy for breast milk or formula.
Cayenne Pepper for Nosebleeds
This spice helps blood clot, and it has been used medicinally in cultures around the world, says pediatrician Lillian Beard, MD, author of Salt in Your Sock and Other Tried-and-True Home Remedies. Keep your child’s head upright and pinch his nostrils together for several minutes. Then sprinkle a pinch of ground cayenne pepper on a moistened cotton swab and dab inside the nose on the area of the bleeding. “It seems like it might sting but, surprisingly, it doesn’t,” says Dr. Beard.
A Stick of Gum for Indigestion
If your child is age 4 or older, have her chew some gum when she complains of a full stomach after a big meal. “The extra saliva she’ll produce will neutralize the problematic excess stomach acid,” says gastroenterologist Anil Minocha, MD, author of Natural Stomach Care.
A Credit Card for a Bee Sting
If a bee or wasp stings your child, remove the stinger to prevent additional venom from entering the wound. In order to avoid squeezing the stinger, which can spread the venom, use the flat edge of a credit card to gently scrape across the area until the stinger comes out.
Cucumber for Mild Swelling
If you go to a fancy spa, the facialist may use this salad staple to ease the puffiness around your eyes. That’s because cool cucumber slices help soothe hot, swollen skin. You can place a slice anywhere your child has minor swelling, Dr. Beard suggests, and then simply replace it with another slice from the fridge after it becomes warm.
Fresh Ginger Tea for Car Sickness
“Ginger stops the stomach contractions that tell your child’s brain he feels nauseous,” says Dr. McClafferty. For children ages 2 and older, add a teaspoon of shredded fresh ginger to four ounces of boiling water, and let it steep for four to five minutes. You can add a bit of honey to make it taste better. After it has cooled, have your child drink it a half hour before getting into the car.
Contact Lens Solution for Congestion
For a child over 6 months, fill a bulb syringe with preservative-free saline solution, raise her head, and gently squeeze solution into one nostril at a time, says Dr. McClafferty. (Do it in the bath or over the sink.) In fact, a recent study found that using a nasal wash with a seawater solution (not yet available in the U.S.) helped kids get over colds faster — and made them less likely to get sick again.
Your Blow-Dryer for Swimmer’s Ear
This painful inflammation of the outer ear traps liquid and possibly bacteria. If the area has become infected, your pediatrician will probably prescribe antibiotic drops. But for mild cases, you can try evaporating the trapped water by standing a foot away from your child and aiming the dryer — on the warm (not hot) setting — at her ear, says Dr. Beard.
A Sock for Tummy or Neck Pain
Instead of buying a heat wrap, make one by filling a sock with uncooked rice and tying it closed with a string, says Paula Gardiner, MD, a researcher in the department of family medicine at Boston University Medical Center. Microwave the sock for one minute or until warm, and place it wherever your child has pain. When it cools off, microwave it again.
A Bubble Wand for Anxiety
Breathing slowly and deeply will help your child relax when she’s feeling stressed, says Lonnie Zeltzer, MD, director of the pediatric pain program at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA and author of Conquering Your Child’s Chronic Pain. Have your child blow long, slow streams of bubbles from the soapy wand.
A Bandanna for Headaches
Wrapping several ice cubes in a dish towel will help soothe your child’s head pain (never place ice directly on his skin because it’ll burn), but it’ll be hard for him to hold it in place for long, says Dr. Beard. To keep the towel-wrapped ice from slipping, press it against his forehead or temples and secure it with a bandanna tied at the back of his neck.
Duct Tape for Warts
The gray fabric tape seems to irritate warts — which can be surprisingly stubborn — and inhibit their growth. Place a small piece on the skin over your child’s wart, but not so tightly that it hurts, says Dr. Johnson. Change the tape whenever it starts to get icky; in about a month, the wart should be gone.