Normal body temperature varies throughout the day and from person to person. It’s higher in preschool-aged children, particularly those who are aged between 18 to 24 months. However, despite these variations, healthcare professionals would generally define fever as a temperature of 100.4° F (about 38° C) or higher when measured with a rectal thermometer.

Different methods of taking a child’s temperature

There are five ways to take a child’s temperature. They are:

Oral temperature

Turn on the digital thermometer. Place the tip under the child’s tongue toward the back of the mouth and ask them to keep his or her lips closed. Remove the thermometer when it signals that it’s done and read the number. If the child has recently had something to eat or drink, wait 15 minutes before taking their temperature by mouth.

Ear temperature

Fairly self-explanatory. Place the thermometer into the child’s ear and read the result when ready.

Rectal temperature

Lubricate the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly. Lay the baby or child their back, lift his or her thighs, and insert the lubricated thermometer 1/2 to 1 inch (1.3 to 2.5cm) into the rectum. Alternatively, you can place the child on his or her belly on your lap or other firm surface. If you place the child belly down, put your hand against his or her lower back to hold them in place.

When ready, remove the thermometer and read the number.

Armpit temperature

Keep the thermometer tightly in place in the child’s armpit until the thermometer signals that it’s done. Remove it and read the result.

Temporal artery temperature

Gently sweep the thermometer across the child’s forehead. Remove the thermometer and read the result.

Addressing the fears of parents/caregivers

Make sure to reassure the child’s parents/caregivers that a higher temperature on its own is not generally cause for concern. 

Although parents often worry about how high the temperature is, the height of the fever does not necessarily indicate how serious the cause is. Some minor illnesses cause a high fever, and some serious illnesses cause only a mild fever. Other symptoms (such as difficulty breathing, confusion, and not drinking) indicate the severity of illness much better than the temperature does. 

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