When Should I Keep My Child Home from School?

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Have you ever grappled with the decision to keep your children home from school or send them on their way, sniffles and all? School rules and your own best judgment often provide the best answer.

The school rules are the rules.

More often than not, a child is going to stay home from school for reasons related to school rules. Examples of such school rules are that the child must be fever-free for 24 hours, have been on antibiotics 24 hours after a strep diagnosis or have not vomited that day.

“In general, if your child is unable to perform school activities, then it is reasonable to have them stay home,” Dr. Michael P. McKenna, Riley Physicians pediatrician, says. “Additionally, if they are going to be significantly infectious, it is reasonable to have your child stay home instead of pushing for that perfect attendance award.”

How can I tell if my child is truly sick or has anxiety about something at school?

This can be a difficult call for parents. A good primary care doctor can give an honest assessment of your child’s illness or anxiety, Dr. McKenna says. When assessing whether or not a child is truly sick, some clues to look for include illnesses that:

  • Only seem to occur on a certain day of the week or only during the week
  • Miraculously improve in time to participate in a favorite after-school activity

“Often times, the child also has symptoms that cannot be independently verified, like a headache or a stomachache,” Dr. McKenna says. “Certainly, there are plenty of children who have genuine, medical reasons to have these issues. However, they can also be used by children, either intentionally or unintentionally, to avoid something at school.”

What activities should I permit when my child is home sick from school?

This is a tough question that even Dr. McKenna wrestles with when he stays home with his own daughters. Ultimately, a sick child needs plenty of fluids and rest. He says once a child’s fever goes down, he or she may feel significantly better and want to run around and play. In general, he encourages parents to let the child lead the way.

“If they start feeling up to reading or writing or using flashcards, there is no reason to stop them,” Dr. McKenna says. “I try not to let my daughters watch too much television or play on their devices too much. Otherwise, it starts becoming like a vacation, and I don’t want them to enjoy the day too much. If they want to run around and be active, I think that is fine as well.”

Should kids ever take a “personal day” off from school?

Kids learn about the world by pushing the boundaries and pushing back against rules, Dr. McKenna says. He suggests that parents stick firm to the boundaries and rules, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel very good. That includes requiring your kids to go to school when they’d prefer a day off but are well enough for school.

“My personal belief is that it is more important for a child to learn that we are all still expected to perform, even at times when you are not at your best,” Dr. McKenna says regarding “personal days” for children. “Additionally, kids will often remember ‘that one time’ when you let them stay home and then continue to look for opportunities to repeat that.”

A variety of influences could be at play when your child wants to avoid school—from bullies to a learning problem. If you have concerns about how ill your child truly is, your primary care doctor can be a great resource to help get to the bottom of the problem.

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