It’s early morning as you get ready for work, and you prepare to start your day. Your child starts complaining and acting fussy. You have an important morning meeting and can’t afford to miss work. Maybe it’s just a little stomach bug or allergies, so it might be perfectly fine to send them off and go to your meeting. But what if it’s more, or the daycare sends little Jamie home?

Having a sick child is a stressful situation and can easily throw a wrench in your daily schedule. Jacqueline Stout-Aguilar, PhD, a registered nurse, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing and former elementary school nurse, gives tips on when to keep your child home and how to manage your little one’s illness.

Red light: Fever is a no-go every time

If your child has a fever of 100.4 degrees or more, do not send them to daycare. A fever this high usually indicates an ailment and could risk the health of everyone around.

“Sending a child to an environment like daycare with a high fever could risk the illness spreading,” Stout-Aguilar said. “If an infection starts spreading, it gets a chance to mutate and is the basis for an endemic.”

Treating your child with over-the-counter medication and sending them to school or daycare may seem like a reasonable solution, but that could be doing more harm than good. Just because they are feeling better doesn’t mean they’re not still contagious.

“If you give your child a fever-reducing medication and send them to school or daycare, you’re not treating the source of the problem.” Stout-Aguilar said. “Your child should be fever-free for 24 hours, without medication, before they can go to back an environment with other children.”

Yellow light: Indigestion, vomiting or diarrhea

If your little one is having trouble keeping food down or digesting it properly, that could be a symptom of illness. However, it may not always be a cause for concern.

“Vomiting or diarrhea is a problem if it is recurring, accompanied by a fever or any other change of behavior,” Stout-Aguilar said. “If your child had one instance, but is eating and digesting food well afterwards, that could be just a bodily issue that has passed.”

Indigestion in children is very common, and is usually a result of eating too much or too fast, or foods not “agreeing” with them.

Green light: Runny nose, cough

Your child’s immune system is a delicate thing. It’s still growing and is developing every day through exposure to the outside world. Certain viruses and bacteria that won’t typically harm teenagers or adults can take awhile to get through your child’s system.

“A runny nose or a cough can be from a change in weather, allergies, or plenty of other reasons,” Stout-Aguilar said. “Just make sure that these symptoms aren’t accompanied by a fever or changes in behavior, and they’ll get better on their own.”

What to do if your child is sick

If your child has been sick and is being treated by their health care provider, make sure you are cleaning surfaces that your child has come into contact with, keeping your child isolated from other children or adults and teaching them the proper way to wash their hands and blow their noses.

“Cleaning surfaces can help prevent future illnesses because some germs can live on surfaces for up to two weeks,” Stout-Aguilar said. “Primary prevention is extremely important, make sure you and your child are washing your hands properly, with warm water, soap and friction, to help limit you and your child’s exposure to potential viruses.”

Know your daycare’s policy 

Daycares will call parents for potential outbreaks of communicable diseases, such as pink eye or strep throat, but once the child is on medication for 24 hours or per order of the provider, they are generally allowed to resume normal activity.

If you are uncertain about your child’s wellness and whether or not to take them to daycare, it’s best to trust your instincts. “You know your child best; don’t ignore a change in habit or behavior,” Stout-Aguilar said. “When it comes to your child’s health, it’s best to err on the side of caution.”

— Dominic Hernandez

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