Is your child’s forehead feeling warm? Are they showing signs of illness? If so, it may be time to take their temperature. But what’s the best way to do that? Here are a few tips:

  1. Have a thermometer before you need it. Don’t wait until your child is showing signs of illness to run to the store for a thermometer. Make sure you have a good one at home that is easy to find when needed.
  2. Use a digital thermometer. You may remember mercury thermometers from your childhood, or the little strip that stuck to your forehead. These relics are no longer recommended (be sure to remove any mercury thermometers from your home because they can lead to poisoning if broken). Digital is the way to go. It is simple to read and accurate.
  3. Know what type of thermometer you have. There are many ways and places on the body to take a child’s temperature. It is important to know what your thermometer was made for so you use it properly and get an accurate reading.
  4. Prepare for an accurate temperature reading. You want to make sure your child’s temperature won’t be affected by other circumstances. If you are taking their temperature by mouth, make sure your child hasn’t recently had anything cold or hot to eat or drink. If you are measuring under the armpit, make sure your child isn’t swaddled under many layers of clothes or blankets that can make the temperature read higher than it really is. Rectal readings are usually the most accurate, but the least comfortable.
  5. Clean your thermometer before and after use. Use warm soapy water or rubbing alcohol to clean your thermometer before you take your child’s temperature and again when you are finished.
  6. Be patient. Your child may already be uncomfortable from being sick, and having their temperature taken can make them fussy. Be calm, gentle, and patient. If your child is of speaking age, talk to them about what you are doing, how it will work, and how long it will take.

So, what numbers should you expect to see on the thermometer? A reading of 98.6°F (37°C) is considered normal and, therefore, not a cause for alarm. A reading of 100.4°F (38°C) is considered high, and you should call the doctor or bring your child into urgent care.

If you are looking to purchase a thermometer, here are the types of thermometers currently available.

Multi-use digital thermometers can typically be used orally, rectally, or in the armpit. These are great for use at any age—rectal is easiest for babies and children up to 3 years old, and orally works well from age 3 to adult. However, it is a good idea to have separate thermometers for oral vs. rectal use, and to label them accordingly.

Temporal artery thermometers measure the temperature across the forehead and temple. Research suggests this variety is accurate for even the youngest babies. It is easy to use and quick.

Tympanic thermometers work in the ear. This is a good choice for children aged 6 months or older, but require particular placement in the ear to get an accurate read on older children.

You may find other kinds of thermometers in the store, like pacifier thermometers or fever strips. We don’t recommend these kinds because they can be inaccurate, which may lead to improper care of your child’s illness.

For tips on what to do when your child has a fever, read our recent blog post