Home Sick from School

I remember the first time that my first baby, Hannah, got sick. Which, if you’re following me, was the first time I ever dealt with a sick kid in my role as a parent. She was three months old, and I was still getting my motherly bearings. I remember that I knew something was up a full day or so before anyone else clued in. I remember how much it sucked to listen to her cry and not be able to do anything to make it better. And I remember that it was the first cold of many that would infect my child during her early years.

I’m six years into the parenting gig now, and I’ve been through the ringer. We’ve had colds, bouts of flu, coughs, vomiting, visits to the ER and I’m pretty sure we even had H1N1, although thankfully our cases were all mild. And lest you think my children are selfish, let me assure you that they absolutely are not. They share each and every germ they encounter with their parents, so that we can spend several weeks going out of commission in turn, like some kind of twisted family bonding ritual.

Big yawn
Hannah had her first cold when this photo was taken

I returned to work just after Hannah’s first birthday, and she started daycare. Since that time she’s been in childcare, activities and school, which means that when a bug strikes, we have to make The Call. Is she contagious? Does she have a fever, or is she emitting any excessive ickiness from her body in any fashion? What would I think if someone else sent their kid to daycare / school / soccer / swimming lessons like this? What does Hannah say when I tell her that if she stays home from school she can’t spend the afternoon watching TV?

In many cases, the decision is clear. My kid is really sick, and I need to be a responsible parent and keep her at home. But in most cases, it’s far more ambiguous. Maybe she’s a little sniffly and kind of clingy, but is asking to go to the park because she wants to run and play. Maybe she’s had the same low-grade cold for two weeks and is slowly on the mend, and I don’t think I can keep her at home indefinitely. Maybe she’s telling me her stomach hurts, but I’m pretty sure it’s just because she hasn’t eaten anything yet this morning and she’ll probably feel better soon.

Poor sick Hannah
Hannah during her most recent cold (I lost count of the number a long time ago)

I remember my own childhood sick days very well. I remember the days when I was actually sick, and I remember the days when I was a little bit under the weather, decided to stay home and felt bored out of my tree. I also remember the days when I seemed OK and my parents had to come and pick me up because I took a sudden turn for the worse around lunch time. And I remember the days when I didn’t want to go to school for some reason, and played up one phantom pain or another.

Those memories really are the crux of it for me. There is just no clear answer when your kid tells you that she’s feeling sick. If you err on the side of caution she’s going to miss a lot of school. If you don’t, you’re possibly putting other kids at risk and setting yourself up for some pointed questions from a preschool teacher. And so I kind of wing it, do my best to figure out what’s an actual illness and what’s something else, and trust that a couple of missed days at kindergarten aren’t going to destroy my child’s educational future.

I wonder how you decide whether to make your kid suck it up and go to school, or keep your kid at home. Do you have some hard and fast rules you use? Do you allow your kid a certain number of sick days, no explanation required? And what do you do with the kid who’s just sick enough to be cranky, but not sick enough to actually be incapacitated? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. Rachael says:

    Winter is approaching on this side of the world, and with it lots of colds and sharing of colds. My son is in Gr 1, my daughter in prep. They are both smart cookies and at the end of the day whether it’s one, two or five days off school just isn’t a big deal at this stage. (Fortunately I’m not working out of the home so that makes the decision easier). They know if they are home sick, unless it’s a gastro type thing there’s no tv, and they do workbooks or read…so I can usually tell if it’s for real or not. Ironically it’s when they want to stay home I generally send them and vice versa! Often times too they could feel cruddy in the morning and be bouncing off the walls by 9 am in which case I’d just send them late.

  2. I just kept both my girls home yesterday. They have both been coughing a ton and having bouts of fever. I am sure I could have sent them both to school and it would have been fine. BUT…we have a ton of great stuff coming up over the next week and they can’t afford to be sick for any of it. So I decided that a day home, resting in bed, would be better than keeping going and running down even more and being sick for the dance show or huge field trip to the Sea Lion Caverns and swimming pool next week. Some times a day of preventative rest is what is needed to avoid a fall into the cold pit.
    When I say ‘resting in bed’ I really mean, one child curled up on the couch watching a movie and the other curled up in my bed watching a movie. Both sleeping on and off for the day. Getting up only to pee and grab a freezie. This morning only one of them is still coughing, but their energy is much better and I am confident that we will make it through tonights dance rehersal and this wekeends year end show and eventually, the field trip next week.

  3. The general rule for our family is if you have a fever or the runs, or a bad cough, you stay home. We have my sister or cousin stay with us through the week and watch the kids so I never worry about missing work although I will stay home for a flu bug. And I have kept them home from school to go to the Ontario Science Centre for the day as well so that I didn’t have to attend on the weekend when it is really busy. But to answer your question, if they are sick enough to be cranky but not incapacitated then I look at the other factors – did they get enough sleep? Are they just hungry? Did they get up out of bed easily or was she lethargic? If they are still cranky and dragging their feet when it’s time to go to school I’d let them stay home. Sometimes they just need a day off.

  4. I have one boy that plays sick a whole lot. He has an amazing talent for making himself ill when he is not wanting to do something, and he really looks the part! A wan palor to his face, lethargy, moaning… it’s very realistic! So then the teacher calls home and then I have to come get him. Next thing I know after a snack and a cuddle he is asking to play outside, the little turkey!!! Of course this backfires when he really is sick. He complains, I tell him he looks fine and next thing I know he has thrown up in PE or something… second guessing these small people is HARD sometimes!

    My idea of “sick” and the school’s idea are vastly different. The first sign of snot and they want me to come get him. When I went to school there was a very strick set of rules for what would pull my dad from work or keep me home: I either had to have a fever OVER 101 degrees, or be throwing up… that’s it. Head ache tummy ache, mild fever, cough, snot, none of that could get me a ticket to stay home! Just the fever or barf was accepted as truly sick. I suppose him having to miss work was the deciding factor though. The sole breadwinner can’t be keeping home for every sniffle that comes along. Me being a Work at Home gives the boys more options…. but I still think the school is much too sensitive these days. You KNOW the working mom is going to load her kid up with cough syrup and send the sick kids anyways (because she has to) so how is keeping my own germ factory home going to make a difference if he is well enough to learn and participate?
    *pol’s last post … Another Decluttering EpiphanyMy Profile

    • Do the “working outside the home” mom’s load their kids up with drugs so they can go to work? That’s news to me. Given the chance, I’d rather stay home with my sick little one than send them. And wouldn’t a work from home mom face the same challenges with missed work and deadlines by keeping their child home with them?

      • I’ve done both – worked outside the home and at home. And I will say that for me, the decision was different when I had to miss work to stay home with my sick kid. Did I dose the kid up and send them anyway? No. But visibility matters more when you work outside the home, and I also didn’t want to be constantly missing work because my kid had the sniffles. And my kid constantly had the sniffles at certain times of year.

        As a work at home mom, yes, you face missed deadlines. But you also have more flexibility in terms of when and how you work. Also, most of us who work at home don’t work 40 hour weeks, because that’s just unrealistic when you have kids around. So there’s probably more wiggle room. But then there aren’t any colleagues to pick up the slack, either, like when I went on vacation from my regular job. There would be work waiting for me when I got back from vacation, yes, but it’s a different game when you have someone else covering your phone calls.

        At the risk of speaking for someone else, I don’t think any slight was meant here. She was just saying that sometimes it’s really hard for people to miss work. Some jobs don’t offer that much flexibility, or dock your pay if you’re not there. And if you’re in that situation, you’re more likely to send your kid to school or daycare when it’s a gray area. Luckily, my work outside the home job wasn’t like that, but I know that not everyone enjoys the workplace perks that I did.

  5. Hard and fast rules? HA. Do you remember when I sent Eve off to her friend’s house and went swanning off to World Trivia Night and she had PNEUMONIA? It’s SO HARD to know how sick they are – or aren’t – sometimes. Angus has a pretty nervous stomach, and depending on which teacher he has I’ve gotten a lot of calls from school that were legitimate but not for the reason they thought. Also, I just remembered how funny/strange it was the first time Angus was hoarse when he wasn’t actually talking yet. It’s a swampy bog, like most other parenting issues.
    allison’s last post … Mid-Week MiscellanyMy Profile

  6. Both my boys are only in school for 2.5 hours at a time (Junior Kindergarten and Preschool) so my stay-at-home-when-you’re-sick guidelines are pretty slack because 2.5 hours is a blip in my day. If there’s anything gross or green coming out of any orifaces they stay home. If there’s a fever they stay home. If they’re lethargic and acting sick they stay home. But for coughs, sneezing kids that are running about and acting normal, off they go! DS was home for the third time in as many weeks because he has wickedly awful seasonal allergies and one of his eyes was once again red, swollen, and goopy. I know it’s allergies but it looks like pink eye so home he stayed (and was taken to the doctor for prescription eye drops so we can have no more fake-pink-eye days)

  7. For the preschool kid? I almost always err on the side of keeping them home. Heck, I’ve kept preschool kids home just for being tired, cranky, or not that interested in school, and honestly their teachers always seem kind of grateful when I do. I figure that, as I pay for preschool and it’s optional, keeping my kids home “just because” is my prerogative. (not that I keep them home that often but I don’t worry about it when it seems advisable.)

    It does become more complicated the older they get, though. Fevers, throwing up, or extreme malaise? Sure, they can stay home. But sometimes my kids seem to have a perma-cough or drippy nose from January through March – as do a lot of kids – so you have to use your instincts and judge whether they are truly ill or likely to be contagious. (BTW, I have read that the green snot being contagious thing is a myth. Usually snot turns green at the END of a cold, when the virus is dead or dying. It’s clear and runny at the beginning, often when the child is feverish.)

    I didn’t stay home sick much when I was a kid, but gosh, I do remember those days with a bit of nostalgia. I’d be all tucked into my mom’s bed, watching The Polka Dot Door (we lived near the Canadian border and the only shows my mom got on her little black-and-white set were from across the St. Mary’s river!)

  8. I’ve never really had to make the call. If V is sick, we generally figure it out by the night before that she won’t be going to school the next day.

    I let my MIL make the call most of the time. And so far, V hasn’t played the “sick” card to stay home. She generally likes school 🙂

  9. When we were little, we generally went to school unless we were throwing up or had fevers. (Though it is true that some kids throw up from anxiety and not just gastroenteritis.) And for any contagious bacterial/fungal things like pinkeye or ringworm or strep, generally kids aren’t contagious after 24 hours on antibiotics.

  10. Seems to me that the key question is not whether our own kid is incapacitated, but whether our possibly/probably/not surely sick child might possibly/probably/almost certainly (let’s face it) “infect” other kids.
    Francesca’s last post … the beach in MayMy Profile

  11. Hmm… I remember when I was a kid, my very Jewish mother would make me stay home if I had a fever. That was the true indicator that something was wrong. But I was honest. I wasn’t one of those kids that pretended to be sicker than they were. And I never got high, high fevers. So a fever for me would be like 100 degrees farenheight. I am specifying farenheight because this is a Canadian blog :). I don’t know the real answer, I guess it’s based on your child’s behavior. If he/she is lethargic or not him/herself, then I’d say keep him/her home. But if there is a fever involved, they should stay home regardless of their behavior.

  12. Hmm… I remember when I was a kid, my very Jewish mother would make me stay home if I had a fever. That was the true indicator that something was wrong. But I was honest. I wasn’t one of those kids that pretended to be sicker than they were. And I never got high, high fevers. So a fever for me would be like 100 degrees fahrenheit. I am specifying fahrenheit because this is a Canadian blog :). I don’t know the real answer, I guess it’s based on your child’s behavior. If he/she is lethargic or not him/herself, then I’d say keep him/her home. But if there is a fever involved, they should stay home regardless of their behavior.

  13. I didn’t ever fake being sick as a kid because I hated missing classes. We’ll see how the boys do . . . fortunately, Q-ster loved his new friends so much this year that it hasn’t become an issue yet.
    Lady M’s last post … Someone at This School is BrilliantMy Profile

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