Too Sick for Daycare? When to Keep Your Child Home


When I was growing up the only reasons for staying home sick from school were a fever above 100º, vomiting just before going out the door, or if we had a particularly virulent episode of impetigo from playing in a dirty sandbox. I had four siblings and I imagine my mother felt it was a slippery slope if she allowed one of us to stay home with a sniffle. We survived.

Although I wasn’t quite as strict, I made sure that our four kids knew that if they were sick enough to stay home from school, they would be in bed all day with only books or homework for diversion. It was not fun. But I am my mother’s daughter and every once in awhile I would suddenly announce that today I am calling you, yes you my healthy child, in well to the school, not sick, and we took the day to spend together.

Let’s take a look at the top reasons for kids staying home sick and a guideline for when to call the doctor:

Common Cold

Different colds have different effects on kids depending on their age and how the cold manifests. Is it in her ears? Is his throat sore? Small children are more contagious than older kids, simply because they don’t wash their hands as often, or cover their sneezes or coughs. You may consider sparing the spread and keep her at home from daycare or pre-school for this reason; for older kids, going to school with a cold with a runny nose and a mild cough is acceptable protocol.

When to call a doctor:

  • Ear ache
  • Plugged up nose and a cough lasting for more than 10 days
  • If your child is under three months.  Fevers can escalate quickly into something more serious

Stomach Flu

Vomiting and diarrhea are common childhood ailments and usually resolve themselves quickly, but you want the symptoms gone before any child goes to daycare or school. If he vomited at night but is hungry in the morning and keeps breakfast down, it should be okay for him to go to daycare. If your child has had more than 2 episodes of vomiting and/or diarrhea in a 24 hour period, she needs to stay home. Keep your child hydrated with plenty of water and clear fruit juice. My mother gave us ginger ale (a rare treat!) and popsicles for our upset tummies.

When to call a doctor:

  • Your child cannot keep any fluids down, and shows signs of dehydration (baby’s soft spot is sunken, dry or cracked lips, eyes look sunken)
  • Severe diarrhea and vomiting lasting more than several hours

Contagious Diseases

Pink eye, strep throat, and chicken pox spread easily between kids and are reasons to stay home. Young children who get pink eye should stay home until the symptoms abate because it can spread easily on toys shared between kids. With strep throat children who have been on antibiotics for 24 hours typically are not contagious and should be able to return to normal activities.

When to call a doctor:images

  • Red swollen eye. This is likely pink eye and will require an antibiotic
  • A sore throat with a fever that does not go away within a week
  • Mouth sores that make swallowing painful and difficult
  • Swollen tonsils


In most cases, particularly when your child has a virus, a fever is your friend. I know, it is counter-intuitive, but viruses do not respond to antibiotics and fevers are the body’s way of ‘cooking’ out the virus. Consider not treating a low grade fever with analgesics and allow the body to fight the good fight without help. It’s usually okay to send a child with a low grade fever with no other symptoms to daycare or school. Use your intuition however—lethargy and trouble breathing may be something more than a passing virus.

When to call the doctor:

  • If your baby is under 3 months and has a fever, call your pediatrician
  • A sustained fever of 104° or higher
  • A fever accompanied with multiple episodes of vomiting and weakness
  • Weakness in limbs

Most of all use your intuition as a parent. Childhood illnesses are common, and yes, necessary to build their immune systems. There is a growing body of evidence that kids exposed infectious agents and even parasites have fewer illnesses and allergies as they mature. It is called the hygiene hypothesis and it is a fascinating concept.   If you have alarms going off however and something inside is worried that this normally vivacious child has been low energy and flat for too long it is always worth calling the doctor. We know our children best, and guides are only that, a rough guide.




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