Healthy Living

When to Keep a Sick Kid Home from School

Feb 1 2024

The following piece was written by Michael Butrey, MD, a primary care provider at Mercy Health – Kenwood Family Medicine.

When the winter months roll around, there is one thing all parents can be certain of: your kids will probably get sick at some point. It just happens. And when it does, you’re often left wondering when to keep your child home from school or daycare.

The following are eight instances when you should definitely keep your sick child home.

A fever

Anytime your child has a fever of 100.4 or greater, you’ll want to keep them home. This is because a fever is a sign of an infection, which may be something contagious.    

Your school may even have rules about this. In fact, many schools say your child must be fever-free for at least 24 hours before they can come back.

Pink eye

Pink eye spreads very easily. So, if your child has it, they should stay home.

How long they should stay home depends on the type of pink eye. If it’s bacterial, your child should stay home for at least 24 hours with antibiotic treatment. If it’s viral, your child may need to stay home for up to a week. 

A known contagious illness

If a doctor diagnoses your child with any type of contagious illness, they should stay home from school or daycare. Their doctor will tell you for how long and whether they’ll need medication.

Common contagious childhood illnesses might include:

  • Strep throat
  • Flu
  • COVID-19
  • Fifth disease
  • Whooping cough
  • Chickenpox
  • Mumps
  • Measles
  • Stomach virus/bug
  • Hand, foot and mouth disease
  • Common cold with severe symptoms  

A lack of appetite

A lack of appetite isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. But it’s not something you should overlook either, as it can be a sign that your child is getting sick.

In general, it’s a good idea to keep your little one home if they aren’t eating or drinking. This is especially true for babies and toddlers who rely on regular feedings. 

Monitor your child’s food and drink intake to make sure they don’t get dehydrated. If your child goes more than 24 hours without drinking anything, call their health care provider.     

Vomiting or diarrhea

Anytime your child has stomach symptoms, like vomiting or diarrhea, they should stay home from school or daycare. This is often a sign that they have a stomach bug. Not only are these highly contagious, but they can last anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks.

Even if the stomach trouble is due to something else that isn’t contagious, like food poisoning, your child will be much more comfortable at home. Like with a fever, it’s best to wait to send your child back to school after 24 hours without any tummy troubles.   

Persistent cough or trouble with breathing

In general, a cough isn’t a reason to keep your child home. But if it stays around for more than a few days or causes issues with breathing, it’s best to skip school for now. It could be a sign of a contagious disease or even something more serious. It’s best to see your child’s health care provider and go from there.  

No sleep the night before

There are many reasons why your child may miss a night of sleep. They could be getting sick or in pain. It could also be something mental health-related, such as being scared or upset about something. Whatever the cause, it’s usually best to let them stay home and rest up the next day. Even if they go to school, they won’t be very productive.  

Something just seems off 

You know your child better than anyone. They may not have a cough, fever or upset stomach, but something just doesn’t feel right. Maybe they aren’t their lively selves, or they’re moping around. Maybe they’re clingy or not interested in playing like normal.

If something feels wrong, keep them home and monitor them to make sure it doesn’t turn into something serious.  

Learn more about the primary care services we offer at Mercy Health.

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