Is Your Kid Too Sick to Go to School?


You know the scenario: Your kiddo wakes up in the morning and doesn’t feel great, but are they too sick to go to school? It’s often a complicated decision parents face—weighing the symptoms as well as the consequences of kids missing lessons and tests, and adults missing work.

While your child’s health, and the health of those around them, is the first priority, it doesn’t always mean a sick day. We asked Wendy Ellis, ND, a naturopath in private practice in Seattle, to outline the stay-at-home guidelines below. “Each child is different, and you must determine whether or not sending your child to school will be difficult for them or disruptive to the others in the classroom,” she says.

If your child has a runny nose but is in good spirits (playing and eating), is it okay to send them to school with extra tissues?

The average school-age child has a number of colds throughout the year—some studies suggest 2–6 of them on average. If your child does not have a fever, has good energy and is eating/drinking and playing normally, you can send them to school. That said, rest is important for recovery; so if staying home for a day will shorten the course of a cold, it can sometimes be a good idea.

What about just a cough?

The same goes for a cough. Some coughs will linger long after a cold, and keeping them home for this length of time is disruptive to learning. If a child cannot stop coughing, and it’s affecting their ability to concentrate (and possibly that of the other students as well), then I would keep them home, especially if they lost sleep due to coughing the night before.

What other symptoms would need to be showing to keep them home?

I recommend keeping kids home when they display a fever, lethargy, poor appetite, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea or pink eye.

Does a spike in temperature always mean something serious? If children are attentive and playing, can they go to school with elevated temp?

No; the body will mount a fever when it is fighting an infection in many cases. This can be helpful, though you should not send a child to school with a fever. Fevers can make a child very lethargic, and they should rest at home.

If your child vomited once but now seems fine, can they go to school?

The general guideline is if your child has vomited two or more times in 24 hours, they should not go to school. Or, if a fever accompanies the vomiting, keep them home. Overall it comes down to how your child is acting. If he or she seems “off,” forgo school.

When should you call a doctor?

  • When a fever is over 102° F, or persists for more than 48 hours.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea lasting more than a few hours.
  • A cold or cough that doesn’t go away after six or seven days, or if symptoms begin to worsen.
  • Ear pain, especially accompanied by a fever or fluid leaking from the ear.
  • Sharp and persistent stomach or abdominal pains.
  • Severe sore throat; difficulty swallowing.
  • Blood in urine or diarrhea.
  • No fluids in more than 24 hours.


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