little girl Nothing throws a monkey wrench into your day like a child waking up feeling sick. But before you cancel your meetings and call out for carpool assistance, know that not every cough and sniffle means your child should stay home from school.

When to keep your child home

There are some hard and fast rules that all parents should stick to when it comes to illness and keeping your kids home. If your child has any of the following symptoms, it's time to let the school know she won't be at her desk:

  • Fever (many schools require children to be fever free for 24 hours without medication before going back to school)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • A rough night (for example, if your child was up all night coughing or having trouble breathing)
  • Listlessness, lethargy
  • No appetite
  • Pink eye
  • Your child doesn’t seem "herself"

If your child is staying home from school, it doesn't mean you have to take her to the doctor. Most childhood illnesses can be taken care of with fever-reducing medications (ibuprofen or acetaminophen) and tender love and care. However, if your child shows any of the following symptoms, you should call your pediatrician:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts more than a few hours
  • Any cold or cough that doesn't go away after six or seven days — or if your child's cold worsens and he develops a fever
  • Ear pain with a fever, or drainage leaking from the ear
  • Sharp and persistent stomach or abdominal pains
  • Severe sore throat
  • Blood in urine or diarrhea
  • No fluids in more than 24 hours 

Simple stuffy noses or coughs don't stop many kids from enjoying and participating in school activities. If your child is congested or has a sore throat but is still active in the morning and able to get himself ready, it's a good sign that he can handle the school day. However, you should check in with your child's school. Many day care centers and preschools have certain rules about when to keep your child home.
This is not a comprehensive list of symptoms. When in doubt, please consult your child’s pediatrician.

Contributed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD