When Should You Keep Them Home?

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"Mommy, I don't feel good."

No parent wants to hear these words, especially first thing in the morning. If you're not sure if your child is sick enough to warrant staying home from school or daycare, you're not alone. It's a dilemma that plays out every day in homes across the country.

There are guidelines to help you determine whether you should keep your child home. But first, here's some encouraging news for parents who are concerned their young child will frequently become ill if he attends daycare with other children.

A new study shows that children who start in large-group care centers by age 2 ½ are 61 percent more likely to develop ear and respiratory infection than those at home. However, once in school, they contract 21 percent fewer ear and respiratory infections.

The researchers believe that early exposure is an advantage because children subsequently miss less school when they are learning to read and write.

Exposure to common viruses early in life is a normal part of developing a child's immune system, strengthening it so it can fight future infections. In fact, exposure before age 2 ½ may actually offer a protective effect.

Should You Keep Your Child Home?

Here are a few tips to help you make the right decision, compiled from the Centers for Disease Control, U.S. and regional Departments of Health, and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Your child should stay home if she:

  • Does not feel well enough to participate comfortably in school or child care activities
  • Disrupts the learning process by requiring more care than staff or teachers can provide
  • Risks the spread of illness

If your child has any of these specific symptoms, keep him home.

  • Deep or uncontrollable coughing
  • Lack of energy or extreme exhaustion
  • Fever of 100 degrees or higher (he should stay home at least 24 hours after fever symptoms disappear without the use of medicine)
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach pain
  • Earache
  • Head lice
  • Severe sore throat
  • Rash (may be a sign of a contagious illness)
  • Strep throat (he can return to school 24 hours after you start antibiotic treatment)

If you're still on the fence, ask yourself this question: Would you want your healthy child exposed to another child with these symptoms? If the answer is no, keep your child home.

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Côté, Sylvana M. PhD, Petitclerc, Amelie, PhD, Raynault, Marie-France, MD, Xu, Qian, MSc, Falissard, Bruno, PhD, Boivin, Michel PhD, and Tremblay, Richard E. PhD. "Short- and Long-term Risk of Infections as a Function of Group Child Care Attendance: An 8-Year Population-Based Study." Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine 164(12) (2010) :1132-1137. Web.

"New Information About Group Child Care and Infection Rates." Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 164(12) (2010) Web.

Centers for Disease Control, Department of Health, Office of Superintendant of Public Instruction, and Jefferson County Public Health. " When To Keep Sick Children Home From School." Web. August 2009.

Washington County Health Department. "When to Keep Your Child Home from School or Day Care." Web. 21 September 2007.