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When Should I Keep My Child Home From School?

All working parents have the same dilemma every few days: Will my child have to stay home from school? And who will stay home with him/her if I am unable to call out from work?

  Many times children will fake illnesses to stay home, but here are some basic rules to follow:

  1. Fevers

The definition of fever is a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius.  Even if the child looks well and has no other symptoms, it may be a good idea to keep him/her home until they are fever free for 24 hours.  The fever may be the first sign of an illness that may develop within the next few hours.

  1. Vomiting

Many kids vomit after crying or eating too much or eating new foods.  That is not a reason to stay home. If your child has vomited more than twice and is not as energetic as usual, it’s smart to keep him/her home.  If the vomiting comes with diarrhea and fever, definitely keep them at home.

  1. Diarrhea

New foods and an overdose on juice or candy can cause children to have runny stools.  If there are no other symptoms, then the child can go to school.  If the stools are very watery or the child is not eating well, and not energetic, that is a reason to stay home.  If the child is not drinking at all or having blood in the stools, then he/she needs to be seen by the pediatrician.

  1. Stomach Pain

“Butterflies in the stomach” are real! If the child only has stomach pain on school days, then you need to look for bullying or find out what is making him/her anxious about school.  Pain with vomiting, diarrhea, fever or a hard belly is something more serious and warrants a trip to the doctor.  If the stomachache only comes and goes and the child has a good appetite, this may just be constipation.

  1. Cold symptoms

If your child only has a runny nose with occasional cough, but is running around like usual, there is no reason to stay home.  He/she is contagious if the cough is all day long and comes with fever or wheezing.  If there are any signs of discomfort coughing or shortness of breath, he/she needs to see the doctor.

  1. Red eyes/eye discharge

Children can have red eyes from allergies and also touching their eyes with dirty hands.  If the redness and discharge goes away with a simple eye wash, there is no infection.  The child is contagious if the inside of the eye is persistently red and has thick mucus draining. He/she cannot return until the discharge has resolved.

  1. Sore throat

The child should only stay home if there is fever, swollen glands or rashes with the sore throat.  Everything else can be fixed with some warm liquids and a humidifier in their bedroom.


Always go with your parental instincts, if the child appears different than usual then keep them home.  They don’t always have to have concrete symptoms with an illness right away.  Also check with your daycare/school about their sick policies. Some places have specific criteria as to when children must stay home.  Others require notes before the child can return to school.  And don’t forget, when in doubt, have your doctor examine the child!

Ray Santos, MD and Ritu Sharma, MD

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