Is My Child Too Sick for School?

This content has been clinically reviewed by Vivian Lennon, M.D. 

“Mom, I don’t feel good.”

When this is how kids start the day, it can definitely throw a kink into the morning routine – not to mention send parents into a panic. Is this tummy ache ploy to play hooky, or should your little one stay home and get some rest?

When trying to decide if your child should take a sick day from school, consider the following symptoms.

Fever

Fevers are often a sign that your child is fighting off a viral or bacterial infection that could get other kids sick. Many schools require children to be fever-free without the use of medication for at least 24 hours before returning to school.

Keep kids home if:

  • Your child’s temperature is over 100.3
  • He or she is experiencing vomiting or diarrhea
  • Your child isn’t acting like himself
  • Your child has other flu-like symptoms such as chills or body aches
  • If the fever is accompanied by a headache, rash, or stiff neck, make an immediate call to your doctor

Stomach ache

Stomach aches and abdominal pain can have many causes, and if your child’s pain or discomfort is persistent or debilitating, it’s best to contact their pediatrician.

Keep kids home if:

  • The pain is accompanied by fever, vomiting, diarrhea or a painful sore throat
  • The stomach pain limits your child’s ability to participate in his regular daily activities

Vomiting

In general, kids should always be kept home from school if they’re experiencing either vomiting, diarrhea, or both, since these symptoms make it very easy to spread germs to other children. This is especially true if your little one also has a fever.

Watery, itchy, or red eyes

Red, itchy eyes are common symptoms of allergies, which shouldn’t keep a child home from school. These can also be symptoms of pink eye, a contagious infection that requires treatment from a doctor.  

Keep kids home if:

  • He or she also has a fever
  • Draining or mucous is coming from one or both eyes
  • One or both eyes is crusty
  • Your child is complaining of discomfort in the eye – many kids say it feels like they have sand in their eye
  • One or both eyelids is swollen

Sore throat

A scratchy throat is a common symptom for many different types of illness, but the most contagious, strep throat, means your child should rest at home and see a pediatrician to begin treatment with antibiotics.

Keep kids home if:

  • The sore throat is accompanied by fever, headache, chills or a stomach ache
  • Your child’s throat and tonsils are bright red or have white spots on them

Ear pain

Even though they aren’t always contagious, earaches can be very uncomfortable for a child, and they may require a trip to the pediatrician.

Keep kids home if:

  • They also have a fever of 100.3 or higher
  • They act lethargic, fussy or uncomfortable, or in a way that’s not like themselves
  • There is discharge coming from the ear
  • They are also experiencing nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

Lice

Lice are an unfortunate, but common back-to-school problem for many kids. They’re also contagious and spread through direct contact with other children. Notify your child’s school if you suspect that your child has lice.

Many schools require that students stay home until all live lice are gone, however, new recommendations from American Academy of Pediatrics say that students can return to school as soon as they have been treated. Speak directly with your child’s school if you’re unclear on what they recommend.

Keep kids home if:

  • You notice visible signs of live lice, including yellow, tan, brown spots called nits (they can also resemble dandruff, and would appear close to the scalp or on strands of hair)
  • A fever or 100.3 or higher is present

At the end of the day, you know your child best. If she isn’t acting like herself, or it doesn’t seem like she could participate normally in school activities, trust your instincts and keep your kiddo at home. Often a quick call to the pediatrician can help put your mind at ease, even if your child doesn’t need to be seen.

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.