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How Sick Is Too Sick for Day Care?

Family & Caregiving

By Jennifer Geisman

Your spouse is out of town, your office is short-staffed and your toddler woke up with a sore throat and runny nose —uh-oh! Many households today rely on two working parents and depend on child care, primarily child care centers, to get through the workday.

When it comes to day care drop-offs, it can be a sticky situation if you know your child is coming down with a bug. Do you still send them to day care or do you keep them home? Don't make snap decisions when it comes to your child's health. Be prepared and familiarize yourself with policies before problems arise.

Know the rules

It's inevitable that your child will come down with something. A group child care environment like day care is a wonderful environment for kids to play and learn, but can also be a breeding ground for germs.

When you're interviewing child care facilities, ask what their sick policies are: If your child is out sick, when is he or she allowed to return?

Pink eye and the common cold are two of the most prevalent illnesses easily passed from child to child. Children's Hospital Colorado recommends that children be fever-free or on a course of treatment for at least 24 hours before returning to school or day care. (A fever is considered 100 degrees or above.)

"Remember, young children in group care will get sick because they have very underdeveloped immune systems. It is the nature of this stage of development," says Julia Kozusko, LPC, parent coach and child/family therapist in Avon, Colorado. "When looking for a child care center, ask questions about their hand-washing and cleaning procedures to ensure your child is being cared for by a provider that limits the spread of infection as much as possible."

Make good decisions

We have all made impulse decisions during crunch time, especially when it's a big day at work. Know the consequences of sending your child in sick. Child care centers often have strict policies on how they limit the spread of germs and that includes sending your child home when the first signs of illness are detected.

Dr. Leslie Greenberg of Andover Family Medicine in Andover, Kansas, says there are two reasons to not take your sick child to daycare: "First, is the safety and recovery of your sick child. They would recover better and quicker in their own home where they will receive the TLC they need. Secondly, when a child is ill, they become a vector and can pass on the virus or sickness to both the care providers and other children, which will exponentially spread the infection throughout the group."

Balance work and home life

According to Children's Hospital Colorado, infants, toddlers and preschoolers experience an average of six respiratory infections [colds] a year and can develop one to two gastrointestinal infections each year. And, as any working parent knows, handling a sick child and work is a balancing act. Prepare before your child gets sick.

Having a conversation with your boss is key to a smooth cold and flu season. Find out what your office's policies and procedures are when parents need to tend to sick children. Can you work from home? Is a system in place for possible job shares if your child is sick? Most businesses understand when a child is home sick, but frown upon you taking advantage of their generosity. Be sure to be gracious and appreciative of the time off and figure out how to make up for lost hours.

Develop a family sick plan

Have your own "in case of illness" procedure prepared. Once you know your office's policies, you and your partner can decide what works best in your home. Consider taking turns staying home or each working a half day (one parent works in the morning, while the other goes into the office in the afternoon). For single parents, this is more challenging. Find out if nearby family and friends can help if your child's needs last minute care.

It's important for parents to discuss all of the options for "sick days" with child care centers and employers. Keeping an open dialogue will result in less stress for parents and a sense of control over those nasty, wandering viruses.

Jennifer Geisman is a contributor for, the world’s largest online care destination.

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