Too sick for school? How a pediatrician decides when to let her kids stay home

Too sick for school? How a pediatrician decides when to let her kids stay home
Image by David Castillo Dominici/

In my experience, when little kids are sick, they are very visibly SICK. Deciding to let my kindergartener say home wasn’t tough. Tweens, though, are trickier. How do you decide when to keep your tween home from school due to illness?

The general rule in our household is you need to have a fever or be vomiting to stay home from school.

Living in the Midwest in the winter, you simply cannot stay home whenever you have a cold. I want my kid to power through minor illnesses, as she still has the ability to learn. The rule also makes it harder to use illness as a way to avoid the unpleasant math test or and lessens the likelihood of her pulling a Ferris Bueller. (I know, I know,  Ferris had a fever, and the clammy hands, but my child hasn’t quite risen to his level yet. At least, I don’t think so. If you see her dancing to “Danke Schoen” in a parade in Chicago, please let me know.)

This winter’s germs, however, have produced some loud, ugly-sounding respiratory issues. Hearing my daughter hack, and knowing that she just doesn’t feel well, has me debating whether to break the rule and letting her stay home, both to stop the spread of germs and also maintain some semblance of a learning environment. No teacher wants to lecture the Battle of Saratoga over my kid’s hacking, and it has to annoy her classmates, too.

So, I asked Dr. Deborah Gilboa (also known as Doctor G), both as a pediatrician and as a mom of four, how she decided when her tween is sick enough to stay home from school.

She responded that the guideline she uses is: “Are you feeling lousy enough that you want to stay home even though there will be no TV or computer use?” If the answer is “yes,” I usually have a genuinely sick kid on my hands. A really sick kid is not worried about feeling bored.”

Doctor G noted, “The acute phase of an illness (even without fever) is shorter if a child can get extra sleep.” She suggested that if there is flexibility, it “often helps to let then sleep in the morning, and, if they perk up, get them to school late.”

The doctor pointed out that, by the tween years, we ought to be able to count on our kids to use a tissue and even occasionally wash their hands.But these are tweens we’re talking about, and they have the ability to completely forget sometimes the most basic info. During this germ-ladden time of year, it’s a good idea to review the importance of hand washing, and ensure that they do it. It also can’t hurt to review good hygiene when it comes to coughing and tissues.

Stay healthy, my friends!

Check out Doctor G’s website,, and subscribe for a new 1-2 min parenting video every Monday on You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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