Student Well-Being

When Should a Sick Child Stay Home?

By Marva Hinton — February 14, 2017 1 min read

Many parents struggle with deciding when to keep their sick children home from school.

That’s according to a report based on the findings of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

Three out of four parents surveyed reported that their child stayed home for at least one sick day during the past year.

The nationally representative poll found that parents’ top consideration for keeping a child home was concern that the illness will get worse (60 percent) followed by concern that the illness will spread to classmates (47 percent). Two out of five parents of high school students also say missing tests or instruction are very important considerations in keeping a child home. But parents didn’t give much consideration to their children missing after-school activities. Only 6 percent said that was very important.

Parents’ ability to get time off work or to secure child care did factor into their decisions. Eleven percent cited not wanting to miss work as very important, while 18 percent said not being able to find a sitter to stay at home with their child was very important.

These factors primarily affected parents of younger children. Thirty-two percent of parents of older children allowed their children to stay home alone while sick, while virtually no parents of younger children permitted their children to do the same.

Parents also tended to look at their children’s symptoms when deciding if their child should go to school or stay at home.

Eighty percent of parents would not send a child to school with diarrhea, while 58 percent would not send a child who had thrown up once with no other symptoms.

“Both of those will cause a lot of interference with kids being able to focus on their learning and to prevent them from having a successful school day,” said Dr. Gary Freed, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan and the co-director of the Mott poll.

However, parents tend to view typical cold symptoms differently. Only 16 percent of parents survyed would keep home a child with red watery eyes and no fever, while only 12 percent would keep a child out of school due to a runny nose and dry cough without a fever.

The survey was administered during October of 2016, and the report is based on the responses of 1, 442 parents who had at least one child between the ages of 6 and 18.


A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.