When Should I Keep My Child Home From School?

Missing School When Kids Are Sick

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Is she too sick for school?. Jetta Productions/Photodisc/Getty Images

Kids tend to get sick more frequently than adults. They haven't built up immunities to many common germs yet and they spend a lot of time around a lot of other kids. Add in the lack of great hygiene habits in general and you have a recipe for rapidly spreading illnesses.

If you are parent, you have probably spent a fair amount of time tending to a sick child. But once they reach school age, how do you know when they are too sick for school?

Between pressure from schools to not allow children to miss too many days and our busy work schedules, it can be difficult to decide if you really need to keep your son or daughter home.

Luckily, we can provide some guidance.

Fevers

If your child is running a fever (anything over about 100 degrees F), she needs to stay home. Fevers almost always mean she is contagious. They also tend to make all of us feel pretty lousy, so she isn't going to be able to focus on school work much if she has a fever.

When can she go back after a fever?

She needs to be completely fever free - without the use of fever reducing medications - for 24 hours before going back to school or child care.

Fevers can come and go, so just because the fever has been gone for four hours doesn't mean she is better and it isn't coming back. However, if it stays down for a full 24 hours, it's much less likely to come back, so it's generally safe to return to school at that point as long as her other symptoms don't warrant extra days at home.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

It should go without saying that a child that is vomiting should not be at school. As far as how long to stay home, the general rule of staying home at least 24 hours after the vomiting stops is one to follow. Like we stated above about fevers, vomiting can return even if it is "gone" for a few hours.

Make sure your child is able to hold fluids down and eat without feeling sick before sending him back to school after he's been vomiting.

Diarrhea can be a little more tricky. Kids can get diarrhea a lot. If it's obvious that it is due to a stomach virus, it is best to wait until all of his symptoms have resolved for 24 hours. If you aren't sure, talk to your child's health care provider.

Cough and Congestion

Kids can get as many as 10-12 colds per year and if she is in school, that could add up to a lot of missed school days. However, because colds are so common and generally mild, they are typically not a reason to miss school.

If your child has a runny or stuffy nose, a mild cough, sore throat or other minor symptoms, she can probably go to school. Even though she is technically contagious, as long as she has enough energy to pay attention and keep up in class, she can go to school. Cold germs are so numerous that there just isn't any way to avoid them.

However, if she is coughing very frequently, coughing so hard that she is vomiting or has symptoms that are making her feel so bad that she doesn't have much energy, she should stay home.

If she has symptoms like this, contact her health care provider.

Behavior

One of the biggest indicators of overall severity of an illness that health care providers look at in children is their behavior. They may not be able to accurately describe all of their symptoms or how they are feeling, but their behavior tells us a lot.

If your young son is playing and reasonably active or if your teenage daughter is still rapidly texting with her friends and generally acting like herself, the illness is most likely not terribly serious. On the other hand, if your child is not very active, wants to lay down and sleep a lot and doesn't feel better even after you give him fever reducers (if he has a fever), you should keep him home from school and contact his health care provider.

Still Not Sure?

If you still feel unsure about whether or not it's okay to send your child to school, contact her health care provider. Getting advice from a medical professional on your child's exact symptoms is always the best approach if you can't decide what is right.

It's also important to check with your child's school or daycare about their specific restrictions on when children need to stay home.

Get the "Is it Contagious?" app from KidsHealth and the Nemours Foundation. - this great app can give you information about your child's illness, symptoms and whether or not he is contagious.

Sources:

"Is My Child Too Sick To Go To School?" Questions & Answers 2013. KidsHealth.org. Nemours Foundation. 11 Sep 14.

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