When should I keep my child home from school?

What do you do when you’re getting ready for work and you hear:

"Mom, I don't feel good."

"Dad, my tummy hurts."

"Mom, I'm too tired to go to school."

"Dad, I feel achy and cold."

How do you know if you should keep your child home from school? If you’re concerned, first and foremost, call your pediatrician or family doctor who can give you advice directed for your child. If you’re unsure if it’s serious enough to reach out to your doctor, here are some general guidelines about when to keep your child home school.

When your child has a fever

While not a disease, a fever is certainly a sign your child is fighting off an infection – which can be either viral or bacterial. Fevers can be treated with the appropriate doses of ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Verify the correct doses either from the packaging inserts or from your pediatrician. Don’t give your child aspirin and don’t give your child medication to reduce a fever and then send them to school. Your child should be fever-free, without medications for at least 24 hours before returning to school. A fever greater than 101 that doesn’t respond to fever reducing medication should be seen by a medical provider.

If your child is vomiting or has diarrhea

Many viral infections cause vomiting or diarrhea – which are highly contagious and spread easily to other children and adults. Children with vomiting and a fever should always stay home from school and be watched closely. Anytime a child has persistent vomiting, fever, and generally appears ill, contacting your pediatrician is the best course of action. Your pediatrician will offer advice in managing the illness. The same guidelines should be followed for diarrhea. 

For mild cases of flu-like symptoms, your child can return to school when they no longer have a fever and feel well enough to participate in class. Parents should always use their best judgment to determine if your child is ready to return to school.  

Sore throat, coughs, and colds

Sore throat, coughs, and colds are very common in children. If coughing is severe and disrupts learning, keep your child home. Children with coughs or colds associated with a fever should be kept home from school until they have been fever-free for 24 hours. Remind children to cover their mouths and cough into their elbow when coughing.

Other childhood illnesses

Illnesses and rashes like chickenpox, measles or hand, foot and mouth disease can be serious and your doctor or school nurse can help you decide when your child can return to school when your child is no longer contagious. 

Parents might be surprised to learn a diagnosis of head lice, scabies, or ringworm isn’t a reason to stay home from school once your child has been treated. Check with your school or daycare’s policies for specific guidelines for when your child can return to school. 

Wash your hands

The old adage, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ rings true when it comes to washing our hands and preventing illness. Proper hand hygiene, particularly after using the bathroom, coughing, touching pets, before and after preparing food, and before eating, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. It involves five simple and effective steps:

  1. Wet
  2. Lather
  3. Scrub
  4. Rinse
  5. Dry

It’s quick, it’s simple, and it can keep us all from getting sick. Hand washing is a win for everyone, except the germs. 

For younger children, try singing the ABC’s or a nursery rhyme like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star to help them learn how long they need to scrub and wash their hands.

Vaccinations are a great front line defense from many illnesses. Talk with your pediatrician to make sure your child’s vaccinations are up to date.

Often, sickness can’t be avoided but knowing when to keep your child home and how to prevent the spread of germs, especially at school can help keep your family healthy this school year.