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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Is Your Child Too Sick for School?

Is Your Child Too Sick for School? (Or, When Doctor Land’s Kid Threw Up on the Teacher)

Flu season is here. How can you care for your child at home? Check symptoms, find expert tips to help your family feel better, and know when to call the doctor here: kpdoc.org/flu

At about 7:30 a.m., while I rushed to clean up breakfast, make lunches, dry my hair, and convince 3 slow kids to move along, I heard my son say, “Mom, I don’t feel so good!”

We’ve all heard those words, but how do we know when to keep our kids home and when to send them off to school?

Part of our job as parents is to get our kids to school on time every day. This helps ensure their success in school. Plus, if we keep our kid home we may need to miss work or find a babysitter. So the decision about when a child is too sick to go to school can be very difficult.

While your decision must involve a healthy dose of common sense, here are some basic guidelines to help you.

Keep your child home if they:

  • Seem too sick to be able to participate in school.
  • Have had a fever over 100.4°F in the last 24 hours.
  • Are contagious to other kids because they have fever, vomiting, diarrhea, uncontrollable coughing, or red and oozing eyes.

Here is more information to help you know whether to keep your child home from school. For more in-depth advice, that will also help you know whether to make an appointment to see a doctor, I provided links to our patient education articles on My Doctor Online, below.

Fever

If your child has had a fever in the last 24 hours they are probably contagious and do not feel well enough to participate in school, so keep them home.

Vomiting

While one isolated urp is unlikely to be a reason to keep your child home, don’t send them to school if they vomit right before school, or twice within 24 hours. If vomiting is paired with belly pain, fever, decreased urination, or an inability to drink any liquids, see a doctor.

Diarrhea

Some kids have chronically loose stools (often from drinking juice) but if their poops have been watery or bloody, or they have had 3 in 24 hours, consider keeping them home – diarrhea can be caused by an infection.

Red eyes

If the white of the eye is just slightly pink and the discharge is watery, your child should be good to go. However, if the eye is red, hurts, or has yellow/green goopies, it’s time to see a doctor.

Sore throat

If a sore throat is accompanied by fever, swollen glands, rash, and/or stomachache, get a strep throat test. Of course, if the sore throat is only paired with a bit of runny nose, they may be well enough for school.

Rash

Don’t send your child to school if they don’t feel well and have a new rash, especially if it’s accompanied by fever. The rash should be evaluated by a doctor. Set up an appointment and be sure to call before you go, in case your child needs to be in a separate area in the waiting room for kids with contagious illnesses.

How to keep your children healthy

We know that school-aged kids get sick an average of 6 to 10 times a year – that’s a lot! There are a few things you can do to keep your child as healthy as possible:

  • Teach them to wash their hands often. Most childhood illnesses are spread through germs shared by touch (one child wipes their runny nose and turns a doorknob and the next child who touches the doorknob gets the cooties). Tip: They will be more effective at washing if they sing the ABC song twice through while sudsing up!
  • Try to teach kids to avoid putting their hands in their mouths or eyes.
  • Fully vaccinate your child, including the yearly flu shot. Vaccines are safe and effective.

Know that despite your best efforts sometimes your choice will turn out to be wrong. You may send a sicker-than-you-realized kid to school and get called by the office later. Or you may keep your child home, only to be stuck with a way too healthy child bouncing around your home! To help avoid repeating that last scenario try to make staying home unappealing: no TV, no playdates, not too much fun with mom, dad, or babysitter.

On that morning of mine a decade ago, I looked at my kiddo and said: “You have no fever, you aren’t throwing up or coughing, you look good enough to me, so hop into the car!” Off we went. Then, the school called me 3 hours later – the poor kid had thrown up. All over his teacher’s shoes. I’m guessing I’ll never live that one down!

This article was previously published by Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools blog.

Resources for parents to explore:

My Doctor Online
Cold and Flu
Fever in Children
Nausea and Vomiting in Children
Diarrhea in Children
Strep Throat in Children