It’s every parent’s nightmare: waking up to a child crying, “Mommy, my head hurts.” Now you have to go through the gauntlet of factors to determine if it is okay to send your child to school or daycare. Can your child go to school when they have a cold or are just a little less than one hundred percent themselves? Or should you keep your preschooler home at the first sign of a runny nose to prevent the spread of germs to other kids?

With minor sniffles and coughs so frequently attacking small children, this a regular dilemma for parents. And for working parents, the question of “how much personal time off do I have?” is the real worry. Even though it’s not a big deal at this age for a child to miss a day of school, it’s difficult for a working parent to miss work to stay at home with their child.

So just how sick does your child have to be before you keep them home? Many schools and care providers draw the line at fevers and persistent coughs. Runny noses are pretty common in kids, and could be caused by allergies or weather changes. In fact, some children are just prone to runny noses. But if your child is coughing, has a fever or other signs of something more serious, then you should keep them home.

Here are guidelines from Your preschool or daycare may have specific guidelines as well.


Good to go: Your child is good to go if he’s over 4 months old, has a temperature below 100.4°F, is receptive to drinking fluids and doesn’t appear to be in a cranky mood.

Too sick: If your baby is 4 months old or younger, call the doctor at the slightest indication of fever (anything above 98.6°F) or a sudden change in behavior; daycare is out. Older children should stay home if their temperature rises above 100.4°F. A feverish child is not only considered contagious, but they are also probably not feeling well enough to learn or participate. Keep them home until they have been fever-free for 24 hours and are feeling like their usual self.


Good to go: They have vomited only once in 24 hours. It’s not likely they have an infection, nor at risk for dehydration. Sometimes kids throw up because mucus left over from a cold has drained, in which case it’s not worthy of a sick day.

Too sick: If your child has vomited two or more times in 24 hours, they’re benched. Watch for these signs of dehydration as well: they are urinating less than usual and their urine is dark yellow; they do not produce tears when they cry; or there are no bubbles between their lips and gums. To ward off dehydration, offer small amounts of fluid frequently, increasing the amount as tolerated. One more thing: Do not automatically send your child back once the vomiting stops. You must wait 24 hours. If they are not markedly better after a few days, call the doctor.

Red eyes

Good to go: When the white part of the child’s eye is only slightly pink and the discharge is clear and watery, they likely have a school-safe allergy.

Too sick: Their eye is stuck shut, bright red, and/or oozing yellow or green discharge: these symptoms all indicate the highly contagious bacterial form of pinkeye (conjunctivitis). They should stay home until they have been on antibiotics for 24 hours or until the goopiness (discharge) dries up.


Good to go: Your child’s stool is only slightly loose and they are acting normally. Some kids develop “toddler’s diarrhea,” triggered by a juice overdose; as long as the poop isn’t excessive, the child can go to school.

Too sick: Kids who have the runs more than three times a day and/or have stool so watery it leaks out of the diaper need to stay home. They likely have an infection that can spread. If you see blood or mucus in the stool, call the doctor; they may want to do a culture. As with vomiting, watch for signs of dehydration and follow the same prevention advice.

Sore throat

Good to go: A sore throat accompanied by a runny nose is often just due to irritation from draining mucus; send them off as long as they are fever-free.

Too sick: If the achy throat is accompanied by swollen glands, a fever, headache or stomachache, bring them to the doctor for a strep test, especially if they are three or older (the bacterial infection unusual occurs in younger kids). Children with strep should be on antibiotics for at least a full day before mixing in with the class.

Stomach ache

Good to go: If this is your child’s only symptom and they are active, send him off. It could signal constipation or even a case of nerves (in which case, a hug will go far).

Too sick: Any stomachache associated with vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or no interest in play warrants a trip to the doctor. Sharp stomach pain and a rigid belly can be signs of severe constipation, appendicitis or a bowel obstruction.


Good to go: If your child is fever-free and isn’t coughing up a storm, he’s a go.

Too sick: Your child should stay home if he has a persistent, phlegmy cough and seems cranky or lethargic. Keep him couch-bound if his cold symptoms are accompanied by a fever or wheezing.