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How sick is too sick for school? When should kids stay home?

Do you have a child who’s not well? Should your child go to school or not? Here is expert advice.
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

Mum, I don't feel well can I miss school today? What parent hasn't heard that question a few times? But when is a child too sick for school?

Usually as a parent you can tell if there's something physically wrong or if your child doesn't want to go to school for another non medical reason.

If your child seems fine at weekends but often claims to be ill on a Sunday night or Monday morning there may be other issues that need addressing, such as trouble at school, like bullying or friendship problems. It may be that they are tired rather than sick. Children, especially teens, can be on mobile phones or laptops till the early hours if they have access to them in their rooms at night. They may feign illness when they are just shattered.

Common sense approach

If your child is experiencing real symptoms of illness you can usually make a common sense judgement call on whether they should stay home, stay off school, or go and see a GP. What action you take as a parent depends on the actual symptoms and their severity.

If you work it can be problematic taking a day off to look after an ill child, but ask yourself if you'd stay at home with the same symptoms. If so the same should go for your child.

If your child won't be able to take part fully in lessons and school activities they should stay home. Also you have a responsibility to make sure your child doesn't spread certain illnesses and conditions to other children and school staff.

So which symptoms require time off school?

Mild cold symptoms - We're talking a few sniffles, a slight cough and a runny nose. If there's no raised temperature and your child feels well enough, there's no reason for them to miss school. Make sure your child knows to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, dispose of it properly and wash their hands afterwards.

Bad cough and cold symptoms - If your child has a bad cough with or without severe cold symptoms they may need to stay off school and perhaps see their GP. It may just be a bad cold but it could possibly be something more serious like flu, bronchitis, or even pneumonia. A child with a raised temperature shouldn't go to school.

Sore throat - A sore throat by itself shouldn't stop a child from going to school if they feel well enough otherwise. If they have a raised temperature of 38C (100.4F) as well they should stay at home. Sore throats can be caused by viruses or bacteria. For most viruses a child's temperature should be normal for 24 hours (without medicine) before they return to school.

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