How to Decide if Your Child is Too Sick for School

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

Once the worst stages of a bad virus or flu have passed, every parent has a dilemma: do you keep your child home another day or two, until she’s completely symptom free, and risk her falling behind in schoolwork (or you falling behind at the office)? Or do you send her in, tell her to tough it out, and risk her relapsing?

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While like everything in parenthood, there’s never a “right” call, thinking out your decision logically rather than with panic is always a good idea. Here’s our guide for deciding whether to keep your child home””or send him in.

  1. Take your child’s temperature. If it’s 99 or higher, keep the little patient home. If it’s in the normal range but was in triple digits within the past 24 hours, your child likely would be better off with another day watching cartoons on the couch. Note that medications like acetaminophen will lower fever and reduce symptoms like body aches, so if you’ve been dosing religiously, your kid might wake up seeming perfectly healthy and chipper””only to have the nurse call you after the dose wears off.
  2. Consider the symptoms. Thick, yellow boogies? Diarrhea? Vomit? Oozing goo coming out of one or more eye? All of these signs are a one-way ticket to a sick day and a trip to the pediatrician (or at least a call to the office). Your child could have something infectious, and you won’t make any friends among the carpool line mommies if you send a kid with pink eye or some awful tummy bug into the petri dish that is the classroom. If your kid’s got a clear but runny nose, a less than amazing appetite, a lingering dry cough and general tiredness — but no other serious symptoms — serve up some Kidz Emergen-C with breakfast and send your child back to school equipped with some tissues and hand-sanitizing wipes. If every child who wasn’t “feeling like himself” was kept home during cold and flu season, after all, we’d have a serious truancy problem!
  3. Consider the agenda — what you might be missing if you called out from work, what your child might be missing if she stayed home from school and also whether there’s any “agenda” behind that a-bit-too-pathetic-sounding cough and complaints about a tummy ache. If you’re home (or perhaps can work from home) and your child is young enough that a day off from school (or preschool) won’t exactly prevent his future acceptance into the university of his choice, why not let him snuggle under the covers for one more day? On the other hand, if you’ve got an important presentation or today’s the big chemistry final, it’s time for a lesson in being a tough cookie. If the issue is actually not medical — some brat is bullying your kid, or it’s pre-algebra angst — you can sympathize and proactively address your child’s concerns without phoning in another sick day.

If you do keep your kid home another day, don’t let schoolwork fall through the cracks. Keep in mind that if you give your child a pass on making up that missed vocab test or tell her to just forget about the math she missed, you’re actually making illness seem awfully enticing. If you don’t want to end up with a real life version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, make recovery come first, but staying current with schoolwork needs to be a very close second.

Jorie Mark is’s Director of Marketing Communications and mom to three kids, ages 2 to 10.