Between colds, coughs and stomach bugs, kids get sick frequently. When symptoms like a runny nose or stomach pain hit, it may be hard to decide when you should keep your child home from daycare or school.
"Sometimes it's obvious when kids need to stay home, like when they have a fever," says Stormee Williams, M.D., a pediatrician and Director of School Based Telehealth at Children's Health℠. "But many times, children's symptoms fall into a gray area that gives parents pause."
Most schools and daycares have their own sick policies about when to keep a child home. You should become familiar with your school's fever and sick day policy as it may be narrower than what physicians recommend. While school and daycare rules may not always feel convenient, it's important to remember that they are in place to keep your child healthy.
Is my child too sick for school?
In general, you should keep your child home from school or daycare when they have any of the following symptoms or illnesses:
- Certain illnesses and rashes like chickenpox, measles or hand, foot and mouth disease
A health care provider or school nurse can help you distinguish those illnesses and when your child is no longer contagious. Parents might be surprised to learn that a diagnosis of head lice is not a reason to stay home from school. We encourage you to reference your specific school's or daycare’s policies for more guidelines.
Should I keep my child home from school with a cold?
Colds, coughs, runny noses and sore throats are common in kids and do not require that children stay home from school or daycare, especially if symptoms are mild. However, if cold symptoms include fever or a cough that is excessive enough to disrupt their learning, you should keep your child home to rest and get them tested for COVID‑19.
"With colds, as long as there is no fever and the child feels well enough to participate in class, they can go to school," says Dr. Williams. "But if a child is lethargic or will not eat, it's best to keep them home until they feel better." Dr. Williams also suggests that if your child needs help controlling their symptoms, like if the teacher will need to constantly wipe their nose or your child does not cover their coughs, these might be reasons to stay home from school.
When can my child return to school after being sick?
When your child can go back to school will vary depending on what symptoms or type of illness your child experienced.
Returning to school after fever
A child should stay home with a fever, which is a temperature of 100.4 or higher. Many schools require that children be fever free for 24 hours before returning to school. Dr. Williams cautions that treating a fever with fever-reducing medications and sending your child to school is not a good idea. Most likely, the fever will return while they are at school, and you'll receive a call to pick them up early.
Returning to school after COVID‑19
Your child should get tested for COVID‑19 if they show symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, new loss of taste or smell or body aches. A child should stay home if they have tested positive for COVID‑19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines quarantine and isolation guidelines.
When your child recovers and tests negative for COVID‑19, they will be able to return to school.
Don't push your child to go back to school if they are still feeling unwell. Conditions like COVID‑19 and the flu can keep them feeling too lethargic for school, even if they don't have a fever.
If your child was exposed to COVID‑19, you should take steps to prevent potential spread of the virus immediately after exposure, regardless of vaccination status. If they are over age 2, children should wear a mask for 10 full days. Watch for symptoms of COVID‑19 and get tested at least 5 full days after being exposed. They should test even if they don't have symptoms.
Returning to school after vomiting
Children can return to school after vomiting when they tolerate liquids and solid food. A child may go hours without vomiting if they haven't eaten, but as soon as they eat or drink, they can get sick again. Dr. Williams advises waiting an hour after a child vomits to let the stomach calm down and then give them sips of water. If they can hold water down after an hour, progress to more liquids or something bland to eat, like a cracker or piece of toast. If they can eat without vomiting, children are fine to return to school. See more remedies for a stomach flu or bug.
Returning to school after diarrhea
Having diarrhea in the classroom can be disruptive to your child’s learning, not to mention extremely uncomfortable for your child. Children can return to school when they have not had diarrhea for 24 hours. You may need to keep your child home longer if they have an infection like norovirus, which is highly contagious.
Returning to school after flu
Children can return to school after the flu when they no longer have a fever and feel well enough to participate in class. Because the flu can cause a variety of symptoms, a child may not be ready for school even if they are fever free. Parents should use their best judgment to determine if their child is close to being back to their normal level of activity before returning to school.
Tips to keep your child healthy at school and daycare
Proper hand hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of germs. Teach your child to wash their hands frequently, especially before eating, after using the bathroom and after blowing their nose. It's also important to wash hands after touching desks, doorknobs and handrails.
To help prevent the spread of illness, teach your child to cough into their elbow or to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue before a sneeze. Reminding your child not to share food or utensils with classmates is also a good idea.
Wearing a mask can also prevent the spread of respiratory diseases like COVID-19, colds and the flu.
Get care now
We know that getting sick is never convenient. But now you can videoconference with a health care provider 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with Virtual Visit by Children's Health Virtual Care. Get treated right from your smartphone, tablet or computer for allergies, common colds and flu, cuts and more. Download the Virtual Visit app today.
You are now subscribed to the Children's Health Family Newsletter.