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sick kids back to daycare

When Can Sick Kids Head Back to School?

As parents, we never want our child to be sick. Of course our first priority is always to make sure they are well taken care of. It’s also normal to be concerned about your child missing school and you missing work or juggling other responsibilities. In fact, one of the most common questions I get after a child has been diagnosed with an illness is, “Doctor, when can I send my sick kid back to school or daycare?”

We have all been there. You little one’s nap is a little longer than usual, they aren’t eating dinner, their eyes are a little watery, and our stress and panic begins to set in…

What am I going to do about work?

How am I going to take care of my other children’s needs?

I have an important meeting that has been scheduled for weeks!

Today, we’re talking about why sending your kids back to school too soon is going to make your life much more stressful. I also share some basic guidelines on when you should send your child back to school after being sick. Let’s get started!

So Really, When Can You Send Your Sick Kid Back to School?

If you’re dealing with any of the following situations, you shouldn’t even think about sending your child back to daycare or school just yet.

Common things I hear from parents that are an absolute NO NO:

  • “My child had a fever last night. I gave her Motrin, and she was fine this morning, so I sent her to school.”
  • “She vomited twice last night but looked great this morning, so I sent her to school.”
  • “He has perfect attendance, so he was going to school this morning no matter what.”
  • “He did have a fever this morning, but he had a really important test that he couldn’t miss.”
  • “I know she has strep throat, but can you please give me a note so she can go to school tomorrow.”

The Breakdown of Why

There is a reason you shouldn’t send your child to school with fever. Unfortunately for us, bacteria and viruses have the ability to live outside our bodies for long periods of time. Cold viruses have been shown to live on indoor surfaces for as long as 8 hours. The majority of viruses and bacteria are most contagious during the stage of the illness when the person has a fever. So even if you give your child Motrin and he or she doesn’t have a fever when they leave for school, chances are they are still extremely contagious.

In addition, because infectious particles are able to survive for so long outside of the body, it is impossible for a teacher to kill all germs in the classroom. It’s especially difficult to control an environment with small toddlers who put everything in their mouths.

More importantly, children who are sick tend to stay sick. When we are fighting an infection, our immune systems are distracted, working on fighting off whatever bacteria is present, leaving us susceptible to other infections.

By sending your child to school before they are completely well, you significantly increase their chance of getting sick again.

I see a lot of parents in the ER who say their child has been sick for a month. With further investigation, I find their child has been in school the entire month. You must give your child’s immune system the opportunity to get stronger in order to prevent future or other infections.

The Bottom Line

Your child must be without a fever for a full 24 hours before even considering sending them back to school. In my opinion, you should really wait 48 hours, but I understand that option isn’t possible for many people. Staying home from school should mean lots of rest, no running errands with parents, no play dates, and no lunch with friends. The body should be recovering and getting stronger. Rest and sleep is imperative for the body to heal!

Related: Sick Visits, What You Need To Know Before Going To Your Pediatrician

Additional Guidelines for When to Send a Sick Kid Back to School or Daycare

  1. Strep Throat – At least 24 hours after the start of antibiotics and without fever.
  2. Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) – At least 24 hours after starting eye drops and without fever.
  3. Cold virus – A full 24 hours without fever and without severe cough and congestion.
  4. Hand, Foot, and Mouth – At least 24 hours after fever. The rash itself is not a reason to keep your child home from school. Once the fever has subsided, it is okay for your child to return to school.

Final Thoughts

Like with anything, planning ahead will always help to resolve a crisis. Have a go-to person you can call if your child becomes sick, and be aware of the signs! If your child isn’t acting themselves, chances are there’s a good reason. Don’t wait until the next morning to figure out a plan.

We would love to hear some other helpful strategies and tips, so please comment with some of your own suggestions of how to overcome the stress of having a sick child at home!

~Dr. Katiewhen to send sick kid back to school or daycare

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