A child's temperature indicates whether they have a fever and can be helpful in diagnosing other conditions too. Simply feeling your child's forehead is a good way of seeing if they have a temperature. You may choose to take their temperature with a thermometer if you are unsure. There are different types, but not all thermometers are right for your child.
Digital thermometers are quick to use, reasonably accurate and can be used under the armpit (always use the thermometer under the armpit with children under 5). Hold your child's arm gently against their body and leave the thermometer in place for the time stated in the manufacturer's instructions.
Ear (or tympanic) thermometers
Ear thermometers are put in the child's ear. They take the child's temperature in one second and do not disturb the child, but they're expensive and the reading may not be accurate if the thermometer is not correctly placed in the ear. So read the manufacturer's instructions carefully to find out how to place the thermometer in the ear and how long the reading will take.
Strip-type thermometers, which you hold on your child's forehead, are not an accurate way of taking their temperature.
Do not use mercury thermometers. Mercury-in-glass thermometers haven't been used in hospitals for some years and are no longer available to buy. They can break, releasing small shards of glass and highly poisonous mercury.
If your child is exposed to mercury call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: February 2018