When to keep your child home from daycare?

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It’s the dreaded scenario every parent can relate to. It’s Sunday night, you’ve had a glorious weekend of downtime with your family but now your little one is sneezing and sniffling out of nowhere. You and your partner both have back-to-back days at work tomorrow and it’s too last-minute to organise a babysitter. 


What do you do? Flip a coin? Take a carer’s day? Attempt to work from home with a sick toddler crawling all over you? Monitor their symptoms and decide the following morning?  

Making the call on whether or not to send them to daycare can be so stressful, especially if you and your partner have a different threshold of what you constitute as ‘sick.’ 

During the peak of the pandemic, most child care providers had firm rules in place around sicknesses and wouldn’t tolerate even a hint of a runny nose. And we get it, it was a once-in-a-lifetime situation none of us had ever navigated before. Daycare providers have a duty of care to protect their staff and children – but as a parent, you’re also paying a huge sum of money each year for a service and have responsibilities at work you need to fulfil. It can be a real balancing act! 

So how do you know when you should keep your child home from daycare? We spoke to paediatric nurse and founder of CPR Kids Sarah Hunstead about how parents can be best informed to make the right decisions. 

Can you send a child to daycare with a cough?

This is a question EVERY parent will find themself asking at some point! And during the winter months, you may find your kids’ coughs just don’t seem to get better. 

So, can you still send them to daycare with a cough? Sarah says while it’s a tricky question to answer, it really depends on the cause of the cough. 

“If your child looks unwell, for example, if they have a fever, runny nose and cough they should be kept home from daycare or school so they don’t pass on the infection to others,” she notes. 

“Sometimes after a respiratory virus, the cough can linger for weeks once they have recovered. There is no need to keep them home in that case. There can be other causes of cough such as asthma that you don’t need to keep your child home for. If you are unsure if you should keep your child home, please go and see your GP or paediatrician for advice.” 

What are the signs and symptoms of an unwell child?

  • Lack of energy 
  • A temperature
  • Coughing 
  • Vomiting 
  • A runny nose
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Unsettled and upset 
  • Feel hot to the touch
  • Look tired and pale 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Parental concern – you are worried 

How long do I need to keep my child home? 

How long your child stays home is dependent on what illness they have, Sarah explains. See the full breakdown below (information via Health Direct)

Chickenpox: Keep them home until all blisters have dried, which is usually around 5 days after the rash first appeared.

Colds:  If your child has a common cold, they are able to return to school/daycare when they are well; however, cold and flu symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of COVID-19. Even if your child’s symptoms are mild, they should do a RAT test. 

Conjunctivitis: Keep them home until the discharge (pus) from their eyes has stopped – unless otherwise advised by your doctor.

Diarrhoea: Keep them home until they have not had a loose bowel motion or other symptoms for 24 hours and if there is no cause identified. They may need to stay home for 48 hours until the cause has been identified.

Gastroenteritis: Keep them at home until they have not had a loose bowel motion or other symptoms for 24 hours and if there is no cause identified. They may need to stay home for 48 hours until the cause has been identified.

Hand Foot and Mouth Disease: Keep them home until all blisters have dried.

Head Lice: Little ones do not need to be kept home as long as effective treatment begins before the next school day.

Influenza A (the flu): Keep them home until they are well and recovered. Colds and flu symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of COVID-19 so always do a RAT test to double-check. 

Measles: Keep them home from the onset of symptoms to 4 days after the rash appears.

Mumps: Keep them home for nine days or until the swelling goes down (whichever is sooner).

Rubella (‘German Measles’): Keep them home until they have recovered fully, or for at least 4 days after the rash first appeared.

Scabies: Keep them home until the day after they start appropriate treatment.

Threadworms: Exclusion is not necessary.

Whooping Cough (pertussis): Keep them home until 5 days after they started antibiotics, or for 21 days from the beginning of their cough.

When will my child stop getting sick from daycare?

The first year of daycare can be brutal on our little ones as their fragile immune systems adapt to all the new germs. It can sometimes feel like they’re not sick. From Hand Foot Mouth Disease to gastro, fevers, coughs, colds and flu – you name it and they’ve probably had it. Twice. 

Hang in there. Once their immune system builds up, you won’t be smashed with back-to-back illnesses. Things usually peter out around the 12-18 month mark. 

Making the decision can no doubt be a tough process but at the end of the day, the health and well-being of your little one always come first. Work and commitments can wait and the world will keep spinning if you have to take a day off to look after your sick child. 
When in doubt, you should always seek advice from your GP and be guided by medical advice. While it’s hard to remember, especially when you’re in the depths of back-to-back illnesses, it’s totally normal for your child to catch around 10-12 viruses a year.

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