Is Your Kid Too Sick to Attend School or Daycare?

Boy (3-5) having temperature taken, close-up
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A sick kid can create stress for families in many ways. Not only are there concerns for the young patient's well-being but also concerns with work deadlines and employment absences if a working parent must stay at home.

Many kids with mild illnesses can safely and happily attend daycare or go to school. If we all kept our children out of school for every runny nose, there would be no kids left in school!

Most germs related to colds will not make your child too sick for daycare or preschool because they do not threaten an outbreak to other kids. Children are most contagious a day or two before they act sick.  When you send your child to daycare or preschool with a cold, to teach her not to share and show her how to cover her nose and mouth with a tissue when she sneezes or to cough into her elbow instead of her hand.

However, to be sure, parents should always check with their kid's teacher or childcare provider to review the handbook for specific policies that apply to kids and illnesses. Most daycare centers and preschools have specific guidelines addressing when you have to keep a kid home due to illness. Each daycare/preschool if different, but most with a policy require a child to be symptom-free for 24 hours before returning. 

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Does your child feel well enough to comfortably participate in the program's activities?

2. Can the childcare provider attend to your sick kid without risking the needs of others?

3. Did the doctor diagnose a contagious illness that should keep your sick kid at home?

4. Does your sick kid have any of these symptoms?

  • Fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the sick kid looks and acts ill
  • Signs of possible severe illness such as uncontrolled coughing, difficulty breathing, wheezing,  persistent crying, or lethargy
  • Diarrhea, such as loose or runny stools, a stool that runs out of a diaper, or a sick kid who can't get to the bathroom in time
  • Vomiting; once a youngster has vomited, most health providers recommend or require that your sick kid cannot return to school or daycare for a minimum of 24 hours
  • Any sort of rash, especially when accompanied by a fever or behavior change 
  • While having a sick kid is a hardship for most families, it is important that parents enact the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) in that if you wouldn't want your son or daughter playing with a sick kid who exhibits certain illnesses, then the same holds true for them as well. Providers and teachers report that families will often drop off a sick youth with a fever or who has just recently thrown up because of work arrangements. That creates not only a major health risk to all youngsters but is terribly unfair to the sick kid as well. Plus, recovery time is shorter with a sick patient who is given plenty of rest.

If so, most providers indicate your son or daughter should stay at home until the illness is no longer contagious and he/she feels well enough to return to school or be around other youngsters.

Illnesses such as pink eye, scabies, head lice, impetigo, strep infection, whooping cough, and chicken pox are highly contagious. In this case, your youngster should remain isolated from other kids until the risk of passing on the illness has passed. 

If your child is too sick to attend daycare or preschool, some tips for working parents are:

  • Split the day with your partner so neither of you has to take a full day off
  • Call a relative and ask for help
  • Ask if you can do some work from home
  • Inquire about sick-leave benefits
  • Plan in advance so you have on-call sitters in these situations