How to know if your child is too sick for school

It is a question parents everywhere grapple with at least once every winter: is my child too sick for school? Sending sick children to school not only puts their classmates at risk of developing an illness, but may also be a waste of time if they feel so awful they can’t pay attention or get so worn out that their illness gets worse.

Figuring out if a child should stay home from school is not always easy. Sometimes, the decision is obvious – the child has a high fever or is throwing up. At other times, however, the answer is not so clear cut. What if your child has a cold or extremely fatigued? 

Here is some advice to help you determine whether to keep your child home:

• Fever: If your child has a fever, keep him home. A fever is a sign that your child’s body is fighting an infection. Most schools and daycares have a policy that children need to be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication before they can return to school. That rule is in place not only for your child’s health, but also to help prevent the illness from spreading to others.

• Stomach issues: If a child is throwing up or has diarrhea, keep him home. He just needs to rest and stay hydrated. Again, most schools and daycares have a rule that students need to be symptom free for 24 hours before they can return. If your child complains of a stomachache, but has no other symptoms, it is OK to send him. Just remind him to let someone know if he feels worse.  

• Cold symptoms: When a child has a cough or a runny or stuffed nose, making a decision about sending a child to school is challenging. A child should definitely stay home if she has a persistent cough with phlegm, wheezing or is extra cranky or lethargic. If none of those factors figure in, take into account your child’s age – for example a high school student can usually deal better with a runny nose than a kindergartner – and demeanor when making a decision. Is your child playing and behaving normally or is she just lying on the couch and not doing much? If unsure, have your child stay home an extra hour or two to monitor his behavior. If she acts normally, take her to school. 

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