It’s a fact of childhood; kids get sick more than adults. Their immune systems haven’t encountered as many pathogens yet, and they have fewer resources to fight them. So for parents of school children, it can seem like their kids are always waking up with fevers, sniffles, or upset stomachs.
Deciding whether or not to keep a sick child home is a weighty decision. It can mean arranging childcare, taking a day off work, and rearranging a carefully built schedule. And it can be disruptive for the child, making them miss lessons and exams, especially for older students.
So what kind of ailment is sufficient to justify staying home?
Most parents, in a poll by the University of Michigan, report keeping their kids home for fever or stomach issues such as diarrhea or vomiting, but sending them to school if the symptoms more resemble a “common cold,” like a runny nose or a cough. Parents also report themselves as being more willing to keep a younger child home but sending a high-school-aged child to school with the same symptoms, when things like important exams enter the equation.
While most childhood illnesses don’t merit a doctor visit, doctors do have recommendations for when you should keep your child home. Here are three questions to ask yourself, courtesy of the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Does your sick child have a fever? If her temperature is 101 degrees F or higher, that’s a sign of illness, so your child should stay home from school until she’s fever-free for at least 24 hours.
- Is your child well enough to participate in class? If she’s too tired to be able to participate in a meaningful way, keep her home.
- Does she have an illness like the flu? The flu spreads very easily, so if you think she might have it, don’t let her go back to school until you know she’s no longer contagious.
- Does she have a very bad cough? A sick child with a severe cough could have a serious condition like whooping cough or bronchitis. It could also be a warning sign of asthma or allergies. Keep her home until her cough abates.
- Is she vomiting or having diarrhea? These symptoms could be caused by a stomach virus or it could be food poisoning. Keep your kid at home if she’s vomited more than twice in the last 24 hours.
- Does she have pinkeye? This condition is highly contagious, and a child should stay home for the first 24 hours after treatment begins. Symptoms of pinkeye include eye redness, irritation, swelling, and pus.
Doctors do say that a runny nose, mild cough, or low-grade fever, with no additional symptoms, likely doesn’t mean anything. Send your child to school and send good tissues with them. Likewise, a headache with no additional symptoms typically doesn’t warrant staying home.
But remember: Go with your gut. You know your child better than anyone else, so if your intuition tells you that your sick child should stay home from school, then keep her home.