Is My Kid Too Sick for School? Tips to Help You Decide

Is my kid too sick for school

Just this morning, my eldest daughter (who’s now 10) came downstairs and said to me, “I’m not feeling well…”

Normally this utterance would kick my mom anxiety into high gear, but I knew she was already suffering with a cold.  I asked her if it was “just her cold” causing her to feel unwell.  And it was, though I got a dirty look for mentioning it so casually.

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After having some breakfast, and being upright for an hour she was fine.  She did blow her nose about 100 times, but her mood improved as her sinuses drained. (Do you go through about 25 boxes of tissues between back-to-school and Christmas break??)

But what about those days where you’re not sure if your kiddo should go to school?  While I am NOT a doctor, and have zero medical training, I do have a lot of mom experience.  And I have 2 daughters who are completely different from each other, so I feel like I’m somewhat qualified to share my opinions on ways to know if your kiddo is too sick for school.

Related: 5 Signs You’ve got Mom Confidence

Things to do before deciding your kid is too sick for school.

Check for Fever

Fevers are an automatic stay home.  And in my experience they make for a easy day for parents.  (Obviously not all the time…)  My girls sleep them off after a dose of Tylenol or Advil.  That means I can cross some things off my at-home list, which wouldn’t usually happen because I would otherwise be at work.

Related: Staying Home with a Sick Kid

How’s Their Appetite?

Breakfast is a great indicator. If they eat and with a bit of gusto, they may be just suffering from a cold and it will ease after an hour or so.

Maybe your kid isn’t hungry right away.  Have them do a few other morning tasks (getting dressed, packing lunches etc.) and then offer breakfast again.  If they choose to eat, hopefully they’re not seriously ill, but if they don’t want to, it may be a sign of a more serious illness.

Give Them Time

Let them be “up” for a bit before they make the ultimate decision to stay home.  When it’s “just a cold” sinuses will often drain out after being horizontal all night, and the afflicted child often feels better.

If your child is over 6 you can offer them some decongestant if it’s a stuffy nose/sinus headache problem.  Keep in mind this stuff takes at least 30 minutes to kick in.  I try to give them medication with enough time left before the bus that I can tell if it’s helping them out!

Absolutely No School

Vomiting, diarrhea, severe coughs or very green mucous-y discharge would all be an automatic stay home.  And also, go with your gut.  As your unique child’s parent, you have the best idea of how your child is faring.

after kid is sick too sick for school

To Medicate, or not To Medicate?

This is a no brainer for me now, but I’ve had 10 years of parenting experience to draw on.  When your kids are small, and have trouble articulating what is wrong with them, it’s so hard to know if you should give them something.

Symptoms like pain and fever routinely get Advil or Tylenol, and now my girls are old enough for decongestants, so we sparingly give that when someone is having a hard time with a very stuffy nose or sinus pressure.

Some other for sure stay home moments:

  • Head Lice – here are some tips to deal with this fun treat
  • Pink Eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Rashes that are not normal for your child – my youngest gets welts from scratching any itches, so unless it looks markedly different than that, she goes to school

As a parent I’m sure you, like me, have struggled with the question “how sick is too sick?”  Because my husband and I both work, the girls rarely stay home because they have a cold.  And almost never do we get a call later in the day that they are too unwell and need to come home.

I will say I have made the wrong decision many times through the 7 years my eldest has been in school, and sent her when she was too ill.  Sometimes it comes on at school and you had no idea, and sometimes they beg to go even though your “mom radar” is telling you not to send them. 

Is my kid too sick for school? Tips to help you decide

We’re not perfect.  Mistakes happen.  And when they do, you go get your kids and take them home to bed.

And, of course, have your child checked at the doctor’s office if you are AT ALL worried about them.  We’ve gone for prolonged bouts of vomiting, never ending coughs, ear pain, so many things, and every time it has eased my mind, even when they say there is nothing “serious” going on.

Do you have indicators for your child that lets you know when they’re actually sick and likely shouldn’t be going to school?  Share them below, I may be able to learn something that would apply to my own kids!


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  1. Over the past couple of weeks my girls have had tummy bugs and colds and there has been times when I didn’t know whether to keep them off or not. If I am in doubt I always make them get dressed for school, eat breakfast and then see how they are.
    I had an argument with the primary school teacher a few years ago. I found my youngest had head lice when I was brushing her hair that morning and rang the school to say she would be late. The receptionist said no you must bring her in on time, I didn’t! I cleared her of nits before I did. The head teacher actually said I did the right thing. hehehe x #MMBC

    1. I really like the idea of getting ready and then making the call about staying home. Often with colds you do feel better after being up and about for an hour or so!

      Oh, and head lice. I think you definitely did the right thing. We’ve also done morning treatment/nit picking so the kids don’t have to miss a full day of school. Good job Kim!

  2. As an ex-teacher, I found that mom usually sent kids to school with colds which then went round the whole class including the teacher me. It’s hard teaching a class of kids who are sneezing and feel rotten.

    1. I totally understand the teacher’s point of view. In my home if it’s serious, we stay home. Sometimes the line is very blurred. And I hate to say it, but if I can go to work with the cold, my kids can go to school with it. I’ve taught them how to cover their mouths when the cough or sneeze, and wash their hands. Life is messy.

  3. I don’t have kids, but do work in a school with mostly K-5. If you have to think about it, keep them home. Germs spread much more quickly around a school with kids than they do in a workplace with adults. Missing one day and keeping 10 others from catching what they “might” have is worth it. Thanks for the post! It’s something you’re just supposed to ‘know,’ but nobody actually does!

    1. That’s a good thought Karlie: “If you have to think about it, keep them home.” I’m sure schools are a regular germ factory all the time. I know I like to blame my kids when I fall sick! 😉

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