When to Keep Your Child Home from School

August 31, 2021

Mother taking care of her sleepy child while sitting on a couch in the living room; Blog: When to Keep Your Child Home from School

Being a parent is great, but when your child is sick it presents some challenges, to say the least. As if them feeling poorly isn’t bad enough, it often creates disruptions to all other areas of your life. If a child is too sick to go to school or daycare, you may have to miss work in order to stay home and care for them or arrange for a relative or other babysitter who can stay with them in your absence. Then, you have to deal with any missed homework or other activities that they may have to sit out from.

Because of the inconvenience and downsides of keeping a child at home, many parents often question when it’s actually necessary to keep them home from school. A lot of parents have a gut instinct about when a child is feeling poorly enough to warrant a day home. But to help you decide we’ve come up with a brief list of symptoms and illnesses for when to keep your child home from school or daycare.


There are differing opinions on whether or not a fever on its own merits removing a child from the school environment. Without other symptoms, a fever can be benign and does not indicate the presence of a contagious illness. However, almost all schools and childcare centers have hard and fast rules about children with fevers. Usually, for a child over the age of 6 months, a fever over 101 degrees indicates infection or illness. Sometimes the threshold at schools will be lower in an effort to be cautious and prevent the spreading of an illness. So, it’s generally a good idea to keep your child home if he or she has a fever.

  • Make sure you know the rules at your child’s school or daycare regarding fever. Children found to have fevers will not be allowed to stay at school or daycare. 
  • Fevers are often the reason a parent will get a call to come to the school to take the child home. You might as well skip the middleman and make arrangements to keep them home from the start.
  • Many schools and childcare providers will require a child to be fever-free without the use of fever-reducing medication for at least 24 hours before they are permitted to return.

Nausea, Vomiting or Diarrhea

These symptoms can be caused by things other than contagious illnesses, but you still don’t want to send a child to school when they are sick to their stomach. They won’t be able to participate in class and the teacher cannot teach and take care of a child who is getting sick. It’s not fair to anyone. And if the symptoms are caused by a contagious “bug” then it can spread quickly and easily to other children and adults so inconvenient as it may be it is generally best to err on the side of caution. 

Sleep Loss

We’re not saying don’t send your child to school if he or she is a little tired. But, if your child had a sleepless night due to issues like difficulty breathing, coughing, or an upset stomach, then they probably are in no condition to go to school. These symptoms may indicate a larger illness, that with adequate rest your child stands a better chance of fighting off. Remember, you know your child better than anyone so use your best judgment and have confidence in your decision.

Undiagnosed Rashes and Mouth Sores

If your child gets a rash that you have never seen before, then you should keep them home until they see a doctor to make sure it is not a sign of something contagious or the result of an allergic reaction.  

Uncharacteristic Behavior or Symptoms

If your child is not acting like herself, then it could be a sign that they are starting to get sick. Children have off days where they are out of sorts or in a bad mood just like adults do. But if your child is acting unusual in ways that do not indicate just a bad day, a day home from school may be in order. These things could include lethargy, listlessness, loss of appetite, or clinginess. If symptoms persist or worsen, make an appointment with your pediatrician.

Contagious Illnesses

If your child is diagnosed with one of the following illnesses, they’ll need to stay home regardless of their symptoms or overall disposition. Ask your pediatrician for guidance on how long your child should remain home from school.

  • Pink Eye: When caused by bacteria, pink eye is generally considered contagious until a person has been on antibiotics for a minimum of 24-48 hours. However, if the infection is viral it can remain highly contagious for several days up to more than a week. Often children with pink eye can return to school if a doctor gives them a note clearing them to do so. How long the child should stay home depends on the type of infection, your doctor’s recommendations, and the school’s policies.
  • Influenza: This is an obvious one. Not only is the flu contagious, but your child will probably feel very poorly and require plenty of rest and attention. Making sure your child gets a chance to recover is important because the flu can become serious, especially for very young children or elderly adults.
  • Chickenpox: Although thanks to immunizations, chickenpox is far less common than it used to be, it is still a possibility. If your child gets chickenpox, it is important to keep them home until the condition is no longer contagious. Your doctor can give you specific advice on how long that may be, but generally, it takes around a week. The sores should be dry and crusted or scabbed over.
  • Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD): If you have a child that has been in school or childcare from a young age, you might have lived through an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease. It is caused by a group of viruses and most often affects children under five. Symptoms include a general feeling of being unwell and a fever. A rash or lesions in and around the mouth, hands, and feet follow shortly after the onset of the fever. There is currently no treatment for the viruses that are responsible for HMFD so treatment is limited to pain relief and fever reduction. Like many of the illnesses on this list, HFMD spreads through personal contact, so it is extremely contagious in environments where people are in close quarters or make a lot of contact with others. Though it mostly occurs in young children, adults and older children that share spaces with a contagious child are also at risk for contracting the illness.
  • Strep Throat: A mild sore throat usually is not a reason to keep a child home if there are no other symptoms present. However, if your child’s throat is extremely sore or exhibits other symptoms of strep throat, you should take them to the doctor for an accurate diagnosis. If the child does have strep, they need to be treated with antibiotics. After the first couple of doses, your doctor may clear your child to return to school as it is no longer likely to be contagious.
  • Other Contagious Infections: Though far less common thanks to vaccinations, contagious illnesses like rubella, mumps, measles, and hepatitis A are still possible. These can be extremely dangerous especially for children that are unable to be vaccinated because of age or immune disorders. Each type of infection will have a specific timeline for returning to school or daycare to adequately prevent the spread of the illness. The doctor treating your child will give you this information.

If you have questions about when to keep your child home from school and when an illness warrants a visit to the doctor, call us at 919-249-4700. You can also request an appointment online. Our team will work with you to develop a care plan that is best for your child and your family. By keeping an open dialogue, we want to ensure that even when your child is ill, you have a positive experience at Holly Springs Pediatrics.