Doctor, When Can My Child Go Back To School?

This article originally appeared on Forever Freckled and was reprinted with permission from the author.

As parents we never want our child to be sick and of course our first priority is always to make sure that they are well taken care of. We have all been there. Their nap is a little longer than usual, they aren’t eating dinner, their eyes are a little watery and our stress and panic begins to set in- what am I going to do about work? How am I going to juggle my other children? I have an important meeting that has been scheduled for weeks! One of the most common questions I get after a child has been diagnosed with an illness is-“Doctor, when can my child go back to school?” Today I am going to explain why sending them back to school too soon is going to make your life much more stressful. We will also be discussing some basic guidelines on when you should send your child back to school after being sick. Let’s get started!

Common things I fear from parents that are an absolute NO NO:

  1. “My child had a fever last night, I gave her Motrin and she was fine this morning so I sent her to school.”
  2. “She vomited twice last night, but looked great this morning so I sent her to school.”
  3. “He has perfect attendance, so he was going to school this morning no matter what.”
  4. “He did have a fever this morning, but he had a really important test that he couldn’t miss”
  5. “I know she has strep throat, but can you please give me a note so she can go to school tomorrow.”

The reason you shouldn’t send your child to school with fever.

Unfortunately for us, bacteria and viruses have the ability to live outside our body for long periods of time. Cold viruses have been shown to live on indoor surfaces for as long as eight hours. The majority of viruses and bacteria are most contagious during the stage of the illness when the person has a fever. So even if you give your child Motrin and he or she doesn’t have a fever when they leave for school, the chances are that they are extremely contagious. Because infectious particles are able to survive for an extended period of time outside the body, it is impossible for a teacher to control the environment especially with small toddlers that put everything into their mouths. More importantly, children that are sick tend to stay sick. When we are fighting an infection, our immune system is distracted and working on fighting off whatever it is that is in our system. This leaves you susceptible to other infections. By sending your child to school, you are significantly increasing their chance of getting sick with something else. I have a lot of parents who come to the ER, and say their child has been sick for a month. With further investigation, I find that their child has been in school the entire month. You must give your child’s immune system the opportunity to get stronger in order to prevent future or other infections.

Dr. Katie’s rules of going back to school.

Your child must be without a fever for a full 24 hours before even considering sending him or her back to school. In my opinion, you should really wait 48 hours, but I understand that this isn’t an option for most people. Staying home from school should mean rest, and no running errands with parents, play dates, or lunch with friends. This is a time when the body should be recovering and getting stronger. Rest and sleep is imperative for the body to heal.

Some guidelines for when a child can return to school after an infection:

Strep Throat– At least 24 hours after the start of antibiotics and without fever.

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)– At least 24 hours after starting eye drops and without fever.

Cold virus– A full 24 hours without fever and without severe cough and congestion.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth– At least 24 hours after fever. The rash itself is not a reason to keep your child home from school. Once the fever has subsided, it is okay for your child to return to school.

Like with anything, planning ahead of time will always help to resolve a crisis. Have a go-to-person that you can call if your child becomes sick and be aware of the signs! If you child isn’t acting themselves, chances are it is for a reason. Don’t wait until the next morning to start to figure out plans.

We would love to hear some other helpful strategies and tips, so please comment with some of your own suggestions of how to overcome the stress of having a child sick at home!

More from Forever Freckled:

The Truth About the Flu Shot

The Healing Power of Elderberry