Should My Sick Child Stay Home or Go to School?

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sick child at homeMore often than not, it’s easy to tell when your child is too sick to go to school. They’ll likely display symptoms like fever, vomiting, or something more contagious like pink eye. Unfortunately, other times it might not be so clear—they’re coughing with no fever or are exhausted with no other symptoms. While having a runny nose or sore throat doesn’t always mean they can’t participate in school activities, determining when to stay home sick is something many parents struggle with. If you need help making the call, we’re here to help! Below our team shares a pediatric symptom checklist, the most common conditions, and tips on how to make your stay-home or go-to-school decision.  

When to Stay Home Sick

There are several symptoms most pediatricians agree would warrant keeping your child home from school. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping your child home if they display the following symptoms:

  • Fever – a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea  
  • Persistent cough 
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing 
  • Distracting pain from a headache or recent injury 
  • Sore throat that lasts more than 48 hours, especially with a fever
  • Rashes with other symptoms present
  • Drainage from eyes or nose that appears yellow or green in color
  • Pink eye

These could all be signs and symptoms of something more severe and contagious, like strep throat, COVID-19, or the flu. 

When to Consider Sending Your Child to School

Pre-pandemic, many parents allowed their children to go about everyday life with a mild virus, including attending school and participating in extracurricular activities. Now, after the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s highlighted the fact that sometimes it’s better to stay home to avoid spreading illnesses to others. Yet, you don’t want to keep your child home with a case of the sniffles. These are common conditions where it could be okay to send your child to school without the risk of spreading an illness:

  • The common cold – Colds are the main reason most children miss school. Each year in the US, there are millions of cases of the common cold, with children and adults averaging two to three colds a year. It’s mostly okay to send your child to school with the sniffles as long as they follow tips to avoid spreading their germs, like washing hands frequently and sneezing into their elbows. If the sniffles are accompanied by a fever, shortness of breath, or drainage from the nose or eyes, it’s best to keep your child home. 
  • Ear infection – Mild ear infections that aren’t accompanied by a fever are typically not contagious, therefore, it’s okay to send your child to school if they’re feeling up for it. However, it’s necessary to keep in mind that ear infections normally stem from viral or bacterial respiratory infections, which can be contagious. 
  • Coughs – Symptoms like a dry cough, sore throat, and mild congestion usually don’t warrant a sick day, but it’s best to keep an eye on your child and monitor progressive symptoms. If you’re still unsure, you can always rely on our pediatric virtual visits, where a board-certified clinician can meet with you and your child to determine the best course of action. 
  • Rashes – Rashes can be tricky because there are so many different types. If it’s something that isn’t contagious and doesn’t interfere with their day, a doctor’s note confirming the diagnosis would be enough to send your child to school. If it’s something contagious, like chickenpox or meningitis, you must keep your child home. 

Schedule a Pediatric Virtual Visit with Hello Pediatrics 

Ultimately, you know your child best. School is critical for your child’s development, and missing days can make it harder for them to keep up in class. If you still find yourself with questions or are struggling with when to keep your child home sick, book an appointment with Hello Pediatrics. With our convenient after-hours resources and same-day appointment scheduling, we make it easy to care for your little one from the comfort of your home.

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