When to keep your child at home or send them to school

Here are some suggestions on when to keep them home or not for some of the more common illnesses that children may catch at playgroup, nursery, or school:

  1. Tummy bugs

If your child has diarrhoea or vomiting, you’ll need to keep them at home for 2 days after their symptoms have passed. Diarrhoea is often caused by a virus or “bug” that is easily spread between children who are in physical contact with each other. Tummy cramps, vomiting, fever and body aches are also common signs of a tummy bug. Most children with diarrhoea have mild symptoms that improve in a few days and can be cared for at home.

  1. Rashes & spots

Schools are generally very cautious about children attending school with spots or a rash. If your child has an infection such as chickenpox or impetigo, that appears as spots on their skin, you should keep them home until the spots have crusted over and healed. If you’re unsure of the cause of your child’s rash, it’s important to seek medical advice. A child with a dark red or purple rash that does not fade when you put pressure on it, must be seen by a doctor urgently.

  1. Cold sores

A cold sore may appear as a blister on the mouth or nose area. Your child needn’t stay off school but try to encourage them not to touch the blister or touch another child with their mouth (kiss) or share cups and towels, whilst they have the cold sore.

  1. Ear infection

If your child’s ear infection is causing pain or they have a fever, keep them off school until their temperature has come down or until they feel better.

  1. Colds, coughs and sore throats

It is quite normal for a child to have up to eight coughs or colds a year. They can still go to school if they feel well enough. Coughs and colds are caused by viruses that infect the nose and throat. Coughing is often worse at night and your child might also have a sore throat. They’re also likely to feel tired, may have a headache and be off their food. If your child has a fever, keep them at home until their fever passes. It’s important that you make sure your child has enough to drink.

Caring for your sick child at home

Knowing how to care for a sick child at home enables them to get the rest and care they need and allows you to monitor and help to manage their symptoms. Your health visitor, practice nurse, nurse practitioner, GP and pharmacist can all give you advice on how to treat your child’s illness. If your child is ill, you can try your local pharmacy first. They'll tell you if your child needs to see a GP. If your child has signs of serious illness, contact your GP directly or take them straight to the A&E department of your local hospital.

If you’re caring for your sick child at home, they’re likely to be very tired in the first few days, which is why they’ll need plenty of rest. In these first few days:

  • encourage them to doze or sleep when they need to
  • give your child plenty to drink. For the first day or so don't bother about food unless they want it and after that, encourage them to try little bits of food and nutritious drinks like milk
  • keep their room airy but not draughty

After a day or two, your child should begin to feel better. This is when you can try to tempt them with small amounts of food and nutritious drinks like milk. They might start becoming bored at this stage, so you’ll want to keep them entertained, particularly if they’re feeling fine but are required to stay home from school after symptoms have cleared up. Keeping them company will alleviate boredom and making time for quiet games, storytime, giving them hugs and cuddles, will also help make them feel comforted.

In addition, paracetamol or ibuprofen such as Nurofen for Children can help provide relief for symptoms such as headaches, body aches, sore throats and fever.

Don’t forget to let your child’s school know if you do decide to keep them home and why. When your child is better and returns to school, let the teacher know if your child has an infection that could be passed on.

There are also government guidelines for schools and nurseries on certain infectious diseases, which will advise the school on when children should be kept off school or not.