Keeping Your Child Home from School or Child Care

It can be difficult to know what to do when your child wakes up with health complaints on a school or childcare day. A runny nose and mild cough may just be uncomfortable while other symptoms may mean your child needs rest or can pass their illness on to other children.

The decision may mean you’ll have to miss work to stay home with your child, or that you’ll get the dreaded middle of the day phone call from the school health office.

Reasons to Stay Home

Your child should not go to school or childcare if he or she:

  • Has a fever
  • Isn’t energetic enough to participate in activities
  • May be contagious

Keep in mind that most schools and childcare centers require that a child be kept home until he or she has been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.

Additional symptoms that require a sick day include:

Signs of the flu, such as a fever with a cough, runny nose, or sore throat

  • Irritability and constant crying in infants
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Persistent coughing
  • A prior night of interrupted sleep due to symptoms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • A rash
  • Eye discharge that is yellow or green
  • Ear or throat pain, a headache, or a recent injury that reduces attention to schoolwork
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing

Be sure to check with your child’s school or childcare center if you aren’t sure whether the symptoms your child has are a reason your child should be kept at home. Not all schools and child care centers have the same policies on when a child should be kept at home.

Make sure the school or childcare center has up-to-date phone numbers and alternate contacts in case your child needs to be sent home during the day due to any of the above symptoms.

Illness-Specific Advice

It is inevitable that your child will get sick with a typical childhood illness that can spread easily to others. In these cases, you may need to follow specific guidance from your child’s doctor on when your child can return.

For example, your child should be kept home if he or she has:

  • Strep throat—until your child has taken 2 doses of an antibiotic
  • Head lice, scabies, or ringworm—can stay in school, but needs 1 treatment before returning
  • Chickenpox—until all sores have dried and crusted and no new sores develop; this is usually 6 days after the rash erupts
  • Rubella—until 7 days after the rash appears
  • Pertussis—until 5 days of antibiotic treatment or 21 days if untreated
  • Mumps—until 5 days after gland swelling
  • Measles—until 4 days after the rash begins
  • Hepatitis A virus infection—until 1 week after the illness or jaundice begins

Keep in mind that your child may be contagious before showing signs of being sick, so be sure to tell the school or child center health office so that other parents can be alerted and the classroom can be properly cleaned.

Germ Prevention

We’d all prefer not to be sick and try to take steps to avoid it. Role model healthy habits and remind your child to follow them to reduce the chances of becoming sick, such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Do note bite your nails or touch your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Avoid sharing drinks or personal items with others
  • Avoid contact with crowds and sick people
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve or elbow
  • Clean surfaces that may be contaminated with germs
  • Stay up to date with all immunizations, including the flu vaccine for children over 6 months old

Keeping Your Child Occupied at Home

Provide your child with supportive care at home and follow any instructions from your physician. You can keep your child occupied with quiet activities such as watching a movie, reading, or coloring.

Remember, your child’s job is to go to school. He or she should only miss school or childcare due to an illness. Missing school means your child will need to make up work and may have a more difficult time keeping up with the rest of the class. When your child is able to resume activities, ask the teacher what assignments he or she has missed and encourage your child to complete them.


Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics


Canadian Paediatric Society

Health Canada


Questions and answers: Is my child too sick to go to school? Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: Updated March 2013. Accessed January 30, 2017.

School and illness: Should your child stay home? Nationwide Children’s website. Available at: Updated November 2011. Accessed January 30, 2017.

Stay or go? When to keep your child home from school. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website. Available at: Published November 3, 2014. Accessed January 30, 2017.

When to keep your child home from child care. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: Updated January 10, 2017. Accessed January 30, 2017.

When to keep your child home from school. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed January 30, 2017.

Last reviewed June 2017 by Michael Woods, MD