Is My Child Too Sick to Go to School?

I'm usually a pretty good judge of when my kids are too sick to go to school or daycare, but other times — like when my youngest seems to be dragging but has no fever — I'm just not sure. How can I tell when they're well enough to go to school and when they should just stay at home? 
– Allyson

Many parents have a hard time deciding if their kids are well enough to go to school. After all, what well-intentioned parent hasn't sent a child off with tissues in hand, only to get that mid-morning "come get your child" phone call? 

But making the right decision isn't as tough as you might think. It basically boils down to one question: Can your child still participate in school activities? After all, having a sore throat, cough, or mild congestion does not necessarily mean a child can't be active and participate in school activities.

So trust your instincts. If your son has the sniffles but hasn't slowed down at home, chances are he's well enough for the classroom. On the other hand, if he's been coughing all night and needs to be woken up in the morning (if he typically wakes up on his own), he may need to take it easy at home. 

Of course, never send a child to school who has a fever, is nauseated, vomiting, or has diarrhea. Kids who lose their appetite, are clingy or lethargic, complain of pain, or who just don't seem to be acting "themselves" should also take a sick day. 

If you decide that your child is well enough to go to school, check first with your child's teacher. Most daycares, preschools, and grade schools have rules about when to keep kids home. For example, pinkeye or strep throat usually necessitates a day home with appropriate treatment. Most centers won't let kids return to school until after a fever has broken naturally (without fever-reducing medicines) for at least 24 hours. 

And remember, go with your gut. You know your kids best, and you know when they're able to motor through the day — and when they're not. 

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: July 2010

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