Share The Health

When Kids Should Take a Sick Day


It isn’t long after students begin their first day of school that cold and flu season begins. The average American child has six to eight colds a year, and this causes more missed school days than any other illness. Thousands of children younger than 5 are hospitalized due to flu complications; this illness causes more hospitalizations than any other disease preventable by vaccines. This school year, refresh your memory on how to keep your child healthy and in the classroom instead of at the doctor’s office.

When to Keep Your Child Home

In crowded places like schools and daycare centers, there are many illnesses that can leave your child feeling less-than-stellar. Some symptoms may be only a mere inconvenience, while others require a doctor visit, medication, and a few days of rest at home. Some symptoms require your child to stay home a full 24 hours after taking antibiotics, even if they are feeling better.

Here are some of the most common symptoms that your child can exhibit, and some tips on when they can go back to school:

  • Fever: This is a sign that your body is fighting germs, and it’s a common symptom of illnesses like the flu. If your child has a fever of 101 F or higher, wait at least 24 hours after they are fever-free to send them back to school. A fever that high is often a sign of illness.
  • Diarrhea: Food poisoning, certain medications, or an infection can cause diarrhea. It can also lead to dehydration, so make sure to supply your child with plenty of fluids to drink. Keep them home until their stools are solid and the doctor gives you the OK.
  • Vomiting: This is a way for the body to expel germs, and a stomach virus or infection usually causes it. Keep your child home if they’ve vomited twice or more in the past 24 hours. It’s safe to send them back to school when their symptoms are gone or when the doctor deems them not contagious.
  • Sore throat: A sore or scratchy throat can be a symptom of a cold or strep throat. Keep your child home for at least 24 hours after starting antibiotics if they’ve been diagnosed with strep.
  • Pinkeye: Also known as conjunctivitis, pinkeye is extremely contagious and an infected child should stay home for the first 24 hours after beginning treatment. Eye redness, irritation, swelling, and pus are some of the symptoms that can occur.
  • Headache: Sometimes headaches can be a symptom of a contagious sickness like the flu, meningitis, or strep throat. However, if your child doesn’t have any other signs of illness and feels fine, they can go to school.
  • Rash: A rash can be a sign of contagious illnesses such as chickenpox, meningitis, or impetigo. Keep your child home until they’ve been diagnosed; they can head back to school after the symptoms disappear and the doctor gives the OK.
  • Earache: These may be a painful annoyance, but they aren’t contagious. A child with an earache can attend school as long as they feel well enough to concentrate.

Sometimes children only need a day of rest to recover from an illness, but sometimes they need to be out of school longer to prevent becoming sicker or spreading germs to other children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you should ask yourself three questions when determining whether to keep your child home from school:

1. Does your child have a fever? Keep your child home if they have a fever of 101 F or higher.

2. Are they well enough to participate in class? If your child seems too lethargic or miserable to pay attention in class, keep them home.

3. Do they have an illness like the flu or pinkeye? These illnesses can be very contagious and your child should be kept home to avoid spreading the germs to their classmates.

Preventing Illness Before It Starts

No one wants their child to get sick, feel miserable, and miss school. Thankfully there are multiple ways for you and your child to prevent illness before it starts:

  • Supply your child with their own pencil box and materials so they are less likely to pick up an illness from sharing these objects.
  • Remind your child not to share food, drinks, lip balm, locker-room towels, headphones, and other items with classmates.
  • Remind your child to wash their hands frequently throughout the day and avoid touching their eyes, mouth, and nose whenever possible.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects such as toys, television remotes, and keyboards—especially if someone is sick.
  • Make sure your child is up to date on immunizations and that everyone in the family has gotten a seasonal flu vaccine.
  • In a 2005 study, classroom water fountain spigots and reusable cafeteria trays were the most germy spots in the school. Teach your child not to put their mouth on the water spigot, or send them to school with their own water bottle if it is permitted.
  • Keep backpacks clean. They can get incredibly dirty from everyday activities and forgotten lunches, so make sure your child cleans out their backpack frequently. It can be cleaned with a sanitary wipe or a wet cloth.
  • Help build your child’s immunity to sickness. When children eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid stress, they will be less likely to get sick. Packing a healthy lunch and encouraging them to drink water instead of sugary drinks will help to keep their immune system strong.
  • Donate illness prevention supplies to your child’s classroom. To help teachers maintain a healthy classroom, you can donate items such as tissues, soap, hand sanitizer, and bacterial wipes to help keep the classroom clean.

Teach Your Child Germ Etiquette

Along the same line as preventing illness before it starts, you can teach your children to be mindful of germs and people around them.

  • Make sure your children know to wash their hands, especially after using the bathroom. On field trips or other events, hand sanitizer can be a substitute for soap and water.
  • Teach children to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they sneeze or cough. Throw the tissue into the trash immediately after using it.
  • If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not your hand.
  • Stay home when you are sick; this will prevent others from catching your illness. Avoid close contact with people when they are sick.

While some winter illnesses seem unavoidable, there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that you and your family stay healthy this season. It’s the perfect time to review simple germ-busting measures with your kids so that they can stay germ-free, at home and in the classroom.