When is it Okay for Your Children to Stay Home Sick?

For the most part, during the school year, our children should be at school. The more time missed from school, the harder it will be for them to keep up with learning. There are times, however, when children should stay home from school. In general, these times fall into two categories.

First, if children have contagious illnesses that we can prevent from spreading within the classroom, they should be home. Second, if children would have difficulty participating in the classroom activities because they feel so ill, there is no point in sending them.

Here are some common reasons to keep your child out of school: fever, lethargy, persistent crying, difficulty breathing, or other signs suggesting severe illness; mouth sores when not able to control saliva; new rash or rash with fever or behavior changes; discharge from eyes or ears; and persistent coughing, vomiting or diarrhea. Different schools and school districts have different policies for who needs to be kept home, how to report it, and whether a doctor’s note is needed. Please check with your school for details. In addition, some illnesses such as strep throat, pinkeye, whooping cough, or mumps have more specific requirements about how long the child needs to be out of school. Your child’s doctor will let you know about this.

For minor illness, such as colds, keeping the child home is not necessary, nor is it helpful. Keeping children with common colds home from school until all symptoms are gone does not seem to decrease the spread of colds. It does make it harder for them to keep up. If your child has a cold, but no fever, difficulty breathing or other serious symptoms as listed above, they can go to school. Be sure they know to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and to wash hands frequently.

One important time not to keep your child at home is if they have an uncommon condition known as school avoidance. Some children will have a great deal of anxiety about school and will beg to stay home or will make up symptoms to not have to go. It is important to recognize this and to work with the school and your child’s doctor to determine the root cause. The more they get to stay at home for this, the harder it will be to get them back in school.

Ensuring school attendance is crucial for good performance and learning. However, if your child is too sick to go, he or she will not get anything out of it and may spread illness to other children. Keep this information in mind to help decide when to keep your children at home, and enjoy the school year!

By Dr. Andrew Collins, pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians-Oshkosh and CHN-Ripon