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My frequent dilemma: Is my daughter too sick for school?

Categories: Parenting & Family


We’re in a rare week this winter that my daughter is not coughing or sniffling. (Of course, now that I just wrote this, she will wake up sick tomorrow.) But more often than not, the question we ask ourselves in the morning during the winter is whether our daughter is healthy enough to go to her pre-school.

When she started pre-school, two years ago, my bar was really high — a runny nose would be reason enough to keep her home. Of course this was a rookie working mom mistake because in no time my husband and I were using all of our personal days at work and realizing that this wasn’t a smart solution. Over the last two years the bar has gotten progressively lower, and my general standard today is two-fold. If my daughter has a fever, she is automatically home, and if she doesn’t have a fever but is generally miserable, she is also staying home. I can’t imagine that she would be comfortable going to school when she can’t go a few minutes without coughing and I wouldn’t want her coughing all over the other kids, for example. (Nice to know that docs seems to agree with using these criteria for deciding when kids should stay home or go to school.)

I have to admit that I get really upset at parents who send their kids to pre-school when they clearly should be resting at home. My husband and I both work and I am not unsympathetic to the difficulty of taking a day off to be home with a sick child, but I feel bad for the kid and I worry about the germs spreading all the way to my daughter. I know, I know, germs are good for developing immune systems and they are ever-present in schools and daycares anyway, but a kid with a fever or who has a river coming out of his nose and is convulsing from endless sneezing fits should be home.

How do you decide when your kids are too sick for school? Do you feel that other parents at your kids’ school are fairly good about keeping sick kids home?

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6 comments so far...

  • I agree with those standards for whether to send my son to preschool and only would add that if he has thrown up at all the day before I also keep him home. I have a related question though - what standard do people go by if they have in-home child care? I work full time, and we have a nanny who is at our home (mostly with our younger son) during the day. I’ve grappled with when I should stay home if either of the kids are sick. Of course I would want to be there whenever they aren’t feeling well, but it isn’t always feasible given the demands of a particular work day. Thoughts?

    Jessica  |  February 17th, 2009 at 1:16 pm

  • Just this morning I sent my first grader to school, even though he told me he didn’t feel good. I took the day off to spend with him yesterday and really thought that he was fine.

    A few minutes ago I got the dreaded”your child threw up at school” phone call and had to send my mom to go get him.

    It’s so frustrating! He’s getting good at the “fake sick” thing and I never know when he’s messing with me. I would love to be home with him now. My boss is pretty patient, but there is no way I can leave work today.

    It doesn’t matter what I choose, I feel guilty either way.

    kaycee  |  February 17th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

  • I have always heard that “green” runny noses are a no-go, but if they’re clear, it’s ok to send the child to day care/ school. Is that still the standard, or does the linked article imply that ALL runny noses are ok? Hmm…

    Sara  |  February 17th, 2009 at 3:09 pm

  • I follow your two-fold guidelines as well. I do have one other indicator - giant green boogers even without a fever. Just awful!

    My 2 year old son has asthma so coughing is a way of life for us. It’s hard to say when is this asthma cough and when is this sick cough.

    Jessica Eveland  |  February 18th, 2009 at 1:56 pm

  • Having a 15 1/2 month old in daycare means she’s sick about 340 days of the year it seems. But I’m a single mom, and I have to go to work. I follow the daycare’s rules…any fever over 101 = home and can’t come back the next day. Same for any rashes, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. But I send her when she has a low-grade fever (usually from teething) or a cold, because otherwise I’d have no sick days left by February. If other parents aren’t happy with me, sorry, but they’re welcome to pay my bills and put food on our table so I can stay home.

    kara  |  February 18th, 2009 at 5:03 pm

  • Hello. I specialize in helping parents, especially working parents, anticipate and plan for their child’s health related needs at day care and school. I know that all parents are anguished about when to send a child with a cough, slight fever, upset stomach or other visible or invisible symptoms of distress to school. Most schools and day care licensing agencies have guidelines about sending a child to school with symptoms of illness. But sometimes the parent needs to consider how supportive and flexible the school is and if there is a nurse or other staff person who is a partner in the care plan. Although parents of children with asthma and allergies can anticipate more missed school time (and missed work time) than other parent, all kids get sick. So developing a stepped-care plan with the school and a pre-designed back up care plan (and back-up back-up plan) at home can avoid unnecessary stress and crisis.

    Ellie Goldberg  |  February 19th, 2009 at 2:42 pm