Poll: Parents struggle with when to keep kids home sick from school

January 16, 2017, University of Michigan Health System
What parents say are the symptoms that are most likely to warrant a sick day. Credit: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll

It can be a nerve-wracking, game time decision for parents: whether their sick child should stay home from school.

But opinions among parents differ when it comes to how sick is too sick, or the importance of sick day consequences such as parents missing work or kids missing tests, according to a new national poll from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.

Seventy-five percent of parents report at least one sick day for their in the past year. The top factors in parents' decision to keep a child home included concern that the illness would get worse or spread to classmates, according to today's nationally representative poll report.

Parents of younger children (ages 6 to 9) most frequently rate health related concerns as very important considerations in calling a sick day while two in five parents of high schoolers place similar value on missing tests or falling behind in class work.

Symptoms also make a difference. Most parents (80 percent) are not likely to send a child to with diarrhea, but have less agreement about vomiting (58 percent) or a slight fever but acting normally (49 percent). Few parents say they are not likely to send a child with red watery eyes but no fever (16 percent), or a runny nose, dry cough and no fever (12 percent).

"Parents often have to make a judgment call about whether their child's sickness warrants staying home," says lead author and Mott poll co-director Gary Freed, M.D., M.P.H. "We found that the major considerations were whether attending school could negatively impact a child's health or the health of classmates."

Freed says parents may recognize that certain symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting would significantly disrupt a child's school day. But most parents did not view familiar symptoms, such as a runny nose or without a fever, as serious enough to miss school.

"It can be difficult to predict if a child will feel worse after going to school or how long symptoms of minor illnesses will last, so parents are often basing decisions on their best guess," Freed says.

Logistics also influence the decision to keep a child home from school. Eleven percent of parents cite not wanting to miss work as very important while 18 percent say not being able to find someone to stay home with their sick child is a very important factor. This is less of an issue as children get older, with 32 percent of parents allowing older children to stay home alone when sick.

Only 6 percent of parents say that missing after-school activities is very important.

The report was based on responses from 1,442 who had at least one child age 6-18 years.

What parents should know

Off to school or stay home? Doctors offer guidelines to consider if your child is sick.

  • A phone call or visit to the child's health care provider can help you know whether the child has a serious illness, but may not clarify how long symptoms will last.
  • Does your child have a but is in good spirits, playing and eating? Send them to school with extra tissues. But if symptoms are accompanied by decreased appetite, lethargy, mood change or breathing difficulty, call the child's health care provider.
  • A spike in temperature does not always mean something serious. If children are attentive and playing, a school day likely won't hurt. But if the fever persists more than three days or comes with other symptoms (like listlessness or vomiting), keep them home, and consider calling their provider.
  • The cause of diarrhea and vomiting could range from a virus to food poisoning. If symptoms will disrupt the school day, are accompanied by pain or fever or if the child is too young to manage (e.g. making trips to the bathroom, being conscious of handwashing) keep your child home.

Explore further: Truth or fib? When kids say they're too sick for school

More information: Read the full report: mottnpch.org/reports-surveys/p … ick-kids-home-school

Related Stories

Truth or fib? When kids say they're too sick for school

August 22, 2016
(HealthDay)—It's only a matter of time after school begins before parents have to deal with a child who doesn't feel well enough to go.

Poll shows gap between parent views and expert assessments of US child care quality

October 18, 2016
A new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll suggests a major gap between parents' views and research experts' assessments of the quality of child care in the U.S. Most parents (59%) ...

One-third of parents concerned about losing jobs, pay when they stay home with sick kids

October 22, 2012
Many child care providers have rules that exclude sick children from care, spurring anxious moments for millions of working parents. In a new University of Michigan poll, one-third of parents of young children report they ...

Pediatrician discusses when to keep kids home from school

March 18, 2015
For many reasons, a child being home from school while sick can be stressful. Parents worry about the severity of their child's illness and about the child missing school, all while trying to shuffle work schedules to be ...

Home alone: Parents more confident tweens will avoid fire, storms than guns

July 11, 2016
Parents are more confident their pre-teen child would know what to do if there were a house fire or tornado than whether the child would avoid playing with guns if home alone, a new national poll says.

Poll: Many parents keep prescription opioids at home

May 16, 2016
Nearly half of parents whose child had leftover pain medication from a surgery or illness say they kept the prescription opioids at home—representing a potential problem down the line.

Recommended for you

The inequalities of prenatal stress

August 14, 2018
Exposure to an acute stress in utero can have long-term consequences extending into childhood – but only among children in poor households, according to a new Stanford study that looked at the long-term impact of acute, ...

Promoting HPV vaccine doesn't prompt risky sex by teens: study

August 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Controversial state laws that promote vaccinating kids against the human papillomavirus (HPV) do not increase the likelihood that teens will engage in risky sexual behavior, a new study contends.

Grip strength of children gives clues about their future health

August 13, 2018
While other studies have shown that muscle weakness as measured by grip strength is a predictor of unhealthy outcomes—including cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, disability and even early mortality—this is the first ...

Prenatal vitamin D pills won't boost babies' growth: study

August 9, 2018
(HealthDay)—For pregnant women who are vitamin D-deficient, vitamin supplements won't improve the growth of their fetus or infant, Canadian researchers report.

Giving kids plates with segments and pictures caused them to eat more vegetables

August 8, 2018
A pair of researchers at the University of Colorado has found that preschool kids ate more vegetables when presented with segmented plates with pictures of fruits and vegetables on them. In their paper published in JAMA Pediatrics, ...

Is too much screen time harming children's vision?

August 6, 2018
As children spend more time tethered to screens, there is increasing concern about potential harm to their visual development. Ophthalmologists—physicians who specialize in medical and surgical eye care—are seeing a marked ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.