How to Manage Your Child's Colds During the School Year

Health Writer

If you have a child in school, chances are he or she is going to come home with a cold at some point during the year. Children, on average, get between 8 and 12 colds each year. Having a cold doesn’t necessarily warrant staying home from school, but sometimes it is best to keep a child home. It can be difficult to know what the right thing is to do.

To stay home or go to school

The best way to determine if your child is well enough for school is to pay attention to the following symptoms:

Fever - If your child’s temperature is above 100 degrees, you should keep your child at home. While at home, make sure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks lots of fluids. Your child should be fever-free for 24 hours or more before returning to school.

Cough - A cough isn’t always enough to keep your child home; however, if your child is persistently coughing - where it would cause a disruption in class or prevent your child from concentrating and learning - he or she should remain at home. Most cold symptoms disappear within 10 days; however, coughs can sometimes last for several weeks. You don’t need to wait until the cough is completely gone before sending your child back to school.

Sore throat - If your child has a mild sore throat, he or she might not need to stay home; it could be a symptom of a cold. However, if your child has a severe sore throat or a sore throat with a fever, it is best to keep him home and visit your doctor to determine if it is strep throat.

Congestion/runny nose - Most of the time, congestion or a runny nose is not a reason for your child to stay home. However, if your child is feeling poorly, you believe the congestion will be a disruption or your child won’t be able to concentrate or learn at school, staying home and resting is probably best.

All parents have faced a morning when they weren’t sure what to do: to send their child to school or send him back to bed. To help make this easier, ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Will his symptoms cause a problem for him or others at school?
  • Is he alert enough to learn?
  • Will he require attention or care during the day?
  • Is he running a fever?

As a parent, you are the best judge of determining whether or not your child should stay home from school.

Be prepared

When your child requires a “sick day” at home, that means you probably need to take a day off as well. Preparing ahead of time can help make this easier.

If you and your partner both work, talk ahead of time about how to handle time off from work. Will you take turns? Is it more practical for one person to take time off? Can one person work from home when your child is ill? Working out these details prior to the school year reduces stress when your child must stay home.

Have cold and flu supplies on hand. Keep a supply of tissues, saline solution, acetaminophen, ibuprofen and a humidifier at home. When your child wakes up and can’t go to school, you don’t want to have to drag him out to the store for supplies; having them on hand means you can settle him in for a rest.

Talk to your boss about the possibility of needing time off from w__ork if your child is ill. Discuss the possibility of working from home or using your sick days.

Have a back-up plan. Are there friends or relatives that might be willing to stay with your child? Some areas have a “sick child daycare facility” that allows children to stay when sick (although they are usually much more expensive than a typical day care). You may not need to use the back-up plan, but it helps to know you are prepared for whatever scenario might arise.

For more information:

The Facts on Treating the Common Cold

The Common Cold: "Why Is My Child Always Sick?"

Nag-Free Ways to Get Kids into the Hand-Washing Habit

Natural, Doctor-Approved Ways to Treat Kids' Colds Without OTC Meds