When to Keep Your Child Home from School

You have plenty of other things to do at 6:30 in the morning than play amateur doctor. Yet that's the situation many parents face when a child awakens with a health complaint and you must determine whether the complaint is serious enough to warrant a sick day.

Here are some tips for deciding whether to keep a child at home:

  • Monitor any symptoms of illness before your child goes to sleep at night. Make time to evaluate the symptoms in the morning. Symptoms can get worse overnight. How does your child appear? Is he or she active, alert, and comfortable or slow, lethargic, whiny, irritable, feverish, or have other significant symptoms?

  • The two biggest factors when deciding whether a child can attend school is whether he or she is well enough to take part in activities and whether the child's condition will require more attention from teachers or staff than is possible.  

  • Children can attend school with the sniffles as long as they feel all right otherwise. But keep your child at home if he or she is feeling too sick to play or learn. Also keep the child home if his or her breathing is rapid or labored and describe these symptoms to your doctor.

  • If your child has a rash, it's important to determine its source. If it's poison ivy, for example, the child can go to school as long as the rash is being properly treated. But an unexplained rash may be the first symptom of a contagious illness. Note whether the rash is accompanied by such other symptoms as fever, crankiness, lethargy, unusual crying, or a general feeling of discomfort. Keep the child at home until you are able to describe these symptoms to your doctor.

  • A common complaint is an upset stomach. This can be caused by several things, including an upcoming test or a situation in school that your child may be reluctant to confront. The pain probably isn't caused by something too serious if your child is able to play or do other activities. But keep your child home from school if the stomach pain is accompanied by repeated vomiting or diarrhea. If the child complains of stomach pain for several days, you should call your doctor for advice.

  • Vomiting more than twice in a 24-hour period means a child should stay home until seen by a doctor. Children with diarrhea who are toilet-trained can still go to school as long as they aren't having accidents, use good handwashing techniques, and don't have blood in their diarrhea.

  • When it comes to temperature, a reading below 100 degrees Fahreinheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) is generally not cause for concern, child experts say. A fever above 100.4 degrees Fahreinheit (38 degrees Celsius), especially when combined with a sore throat, a rash, or other symptoms, could mean a more serious illness. Keep the child at home and then describe the symptoms to your doctor.