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Sick Day: A Plan for When Your Child Stays Home From School

Sick Day: A Plan for When Your Child Stays Home From School

When your child isn't feeling well and stays home from school, there is a lot to consider, from finding last-minute child care to keeping the rest of the family healthy, and when your child can go back to school.

The alarm clock rings for school, and your child complains of not feeling well. While fluids and rest are the best treatments when your child isn’t feeling well, according to Tanya Altmann, M.D., FAAP, pediatrician, mother of two, and American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson, you’ve got some immediate decisions to make. Here’s your prescription for sick days, including when your child should stay home, finding last-minute child care, and helping your child stay on track at school, to keep this sick day from turning into a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-like escapade (hey, it’s okay to keep the kid entertained, but let’s skip the parades).

Should your child go to school or stay home?

Nearly 22 million school days are lost each year due to colds, and approximately 38 million school days are lost each year due to the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If your child is starting to feel ill but you don’t want her to contribute too many of her own sick days to those millions of missed school days, you can still send her to school if she has a runny nose, is sneezing, or has a slight cough, says Sandyha Katz, M.D., board-certified in pediatric and pediatric emergency medicine and an emergency medical associate of Nyack Hospital Emergency Department in Nyack. “But send them with instructions of: Always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and always dispose of used tissues. And send them with a hand sanitizer to keep in their bag so they can constantly clean their hands.”

Dr. Katz says you should absolutely not send your child to school when he is feverish, is vomiting more than two times a day, has discharge coming from his eyes, is having trouble breathing, or has a whooping-kind of cough or persistent abdominal pain. If your child is unable to perform daily tasks or be in class for 6-8 hours, Dr. Katz adds, that is also a reason why your child should stay home.

When your child has not had a fever for more than 24 hours, is not vomiting, and can sit through a full day of school, she is in the clear to head back to class. Here are more guidelines on when it’s wise to send your child back to school.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following people get flu shots every year: children ages 6 months and older; pregnant women; adults older than 50; those with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease; those living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities; health care workers; and those in contact with people who are at high-risk, including infants and elderly.

Boredom Busters

Our top 10 mellow activities to prevent complaints and entertain your sick child.

How to find last-minute child care.

“There are times when you choose to take a somewhat ill child to school because it will seriously inconvenience you. Other times you don’t want to keep your child home because something special will be missed—a school trip, or a crucial test,” says Susan Bartell, Psy.D., a Port Washington-based child, teen, and parenting psychologist. “We all do it, but let’s face it, it’s not right. If you’re sick you should be home recuperating.” But keeping your child home may not be a cut-and-dried situation, especially if both you and your spouse work. Here, a few suggestions for last-minute child care:

Set up an agreement with your partner: If you and your spouse have the flexibility of taking a sick day at work when your child’s sick, take turns on who will stay home each day so one of you isn’t taking all the time off, or consider each working a half-day so neither of you misses a full day of work.

Ask your employer if you have a work-from-home option: Some businesses will allow employees to telecommute for a day or two, which makes it easier for you to care for your child. Just make sure your child understands that you still need to work and can’t give him one-on-one attention all day.

Keep a list of caregivers that may be available at the last-minute: If you have family close by, check with them to see if they’d be willing to care for your child when she has to stay home sick. Another option is asking a friend who works from home to work from your home while keeping an eye on your child.

Call the local hospital: Your neighborhood hospital or pediatrician may offer day care for sick children, or they may know of a sick child drop-in center nearby. (Do this research ahead of time so you’re not scrambling day of.)

Browse online sitter services: Sites such as,, and allow you to search for sitters that are available last-minute to care for your child. Full disclosure: Tell the sitter before booking that your child is sick.

Keeping up with school work when home sick.

Falling behind in school may be a concern for your sick child, especially if he is out of school for a long-term illness. We spoke to Ann Dolin, M.Ed., founder of Educational Connections Inc., for tips on helping your child stay on track.

How to keep the rest of the family healthy when one member is sick.

Once school begins, colds spread like wildfire. And if you’re not careful, that school-borne illness your child has can easily spread to the rest of the family. “About 65 percent of all colds are caught in the home,” says Philip Tierno, Ph.D., director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center.

So how do you keep the rest of the family healthy? Dr. Tierno suggests you wash your hands regularly and thoroughly (Dr. Altmann suggests teaching your kids to sing “Happy Birthday” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” twice while washing hands for proper cleaning); teach your children the proper etiquette for coughing and sneezing—use a tissue or the crux of your arm—and model these actions to your children; sanitize surfaces in the home—doorknobs, dining surfaces, remote controls, telephones; and practice good food hygiene by sanitizing countertops and cooking surfaces regularly, always use a clean cutting board, and avoid mixing uncooked plant- and animal-based foods.

With much in the news of late about Enterovirus (see box below), it’s also important to discourage kids from touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands and tell them to avoid close contact (such as kissing, hugging, and sharing cups or eating utensils) with people who are sick.

What Is Enterovirus?

Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) is one of more than 100 viruses classified as “non-polio enteroviruses” that circulate in the U.S. each year. This year, it is presenting in more than 40 states and making more than 500 people sick. The virus is known to cause mild to severe respiratory illness. While it has been present in the population since 1962, EV-D68 is making a larger impact on children around the country this year.

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Katelin Walling

Author: Katelin Walling is the former editorial director for NYMetroParents. She has been writing about parenting, health, finance, education, fun things to do in NYC and the surrounding area, and more for nearly 10 years. She also has 20+ years of child care experience and was a babysitter in NYC for 8 years. Katelin graduated from the University of Maine in 2011 and attended the NYU Summer Publishing Institute during the summer of 2011. To unplug in her free time, she can often be found reading, knitting (or general crafting), or whipping up a vegan treat—all with a cup of coffee nearby. See More

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