Is My Child Too Sick to Go to School?

Her cough woke me from a sound sleep. Wait, did she actually cough or did I dream it? Then she coughed again and it sounded wet and thick. Mother’s instinct told me this was the dreaded bug going around school.

I waited for her to wake up so I could assess the situation. I didn’t have to wait long because soon enough a flushed child was standing at the foot of my bed excreting mucous. I clung to the hope that warm water with lemon and wishful thinking would remedy the situation.

No such luck. The thermometer confirmed it—low-grade fever. Did I risk sending her to school?

My husband had already left for work so this dilemma was all on me. I hate seeing my child change from healthy and active, to upset and uncomfortable. If I could be sick in her place, I would. Actually, she coughed in my eye so I’d probably be sick in 24-72 hours anyway so…

Imagining my sweet girl sad and suffering at her desk was enough for me to call the school absence line.

I did the mental gymnastics to reorganize my day—I emailed my boss to ask for the day off, contacted a supply teacher and warned her that there were absolutely NO lesson plans left for her and to just please ignore the empty Pringles can and four coffee cups on my desk. Embarrassing, but a small price to pay for being able to stay home to take care of my child.

Tips on knowing when they should stay home from school & how to treat them at home

It’s a selfish and risky move to send a sick child to school. Have you seen the movie Contagion? Okay, I haven’t seen it, but the title leads me to believe that being contagious in public isn’t good.

Know what else isn’t good in public?

Vomiting and diarrhea. If your child has either of those nasty symptoms or both (god help you) keep them home.

The same applies if they have a fever. I keep my daughter home if the thermometer registers anything over 100.4F.

And if you suspect the ailment is contagious. Think strep throat or whooping cough or early-stage chickenpox. Keep them at home until your doctor says it’s okay to return to regular activities.

A mild cold or cough is a gray area. My approach is if the cough or runny nose is persistent and I believe it will be loud, messy, uncomfortable for my child (or anyone in the splash zone), or too much for teachers to manage, then I call a sick day.

How to treat your sick child’s symptoms

I prefer to treat my child at home as a first course of action. Partly because my daughter just wants to sleep when she’s sick and I feel horrible dragging her out. I also like to avoid germy medical waiting rooms whenever possible. However, when a doctor’s evaluation is needed, I don’t hesitate. For example, if your child’s fever remains elevated despite fever meds, if they are in significant pain or distress, or if symptoms worsen, call your doctor.

When my daughter stays home sick I set up a care station in my bedroom with a tray of my Florence Nightingale must-haves beside the bed. This makeshift quarantine keeps germs away from the rest of the house and I have everything I need within arm’s reach. I keep a flashlight on the tray too so I can have a look at my daughter during the night without turning on the light.

When my daughter was younger I used a syringe to administer Children’s Advil. Now that she’s older, we use the chewables. Children’s Advil provides up to 8 hours of fever relief which means a dose at MY bedtime will keep my child’s fever at bay so I can get some sleep too.

I keep a notebook on the supply tray and jot down what dose was given and when. This keeps the med schedule on track and it’s helpful in case my husband or mom takes over.

We’re technically plant-based in our home, but when anyone is sick, I pull out the “flexitarian card” and call on the healing power of good old fashioned chicken soup. Old wives’ tales rule, am I right?

While I work on my laptop and keep watch over my daughter, I put in an online order for groceries to be delivered. How did we manage before delivery services?

Staples on my ‘Sickie Sustenance’ list:

Oranges, bananas, Jello, apple sauce, apple juice, ginger ale, saltines, eggs and bread (for soft boiled eggs with toast soldiers), oatmeal, electrolytes (if needed), pain and fever management meds if we’re running low, and potato chips. Florence Nightingale loves chips.

When deciding whether to send your child to school, go with your gut. And if your gut happens to feel queasy… you probably caught your child’s virus. Call in sick.


This post is brought to you by Children’s Advil but the opinions are our own. Be sure this product is right for you. Read and follow the label.



1 Comment

  1. Granny Annie"s friend MARGE on January 11, 2020 at 9:15 am

    Lisa – so happy you are the author of this article! Where were you when I needed you (raising 3 daughters ( 7, 5 and 2-1/2) with two at school age)???
    Looking forward to more WISE information and a few chuckles.

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