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Confess! Have You Ever Sent Your Sick Child to School?

Have you noticed all the sniffles and hacking coughs escaping from the precious children you come in contact with lately? Cold and flu season is here, but what fine line do you draw when deciding whether or not to send your “sick” child to school?

Last week I came home to a message on our answering machine – My third grader was in the nurse’s office with a very deep cough and watery eyes. 

The school nurse was a peach and by no means made me feel like a wretched mother for having sent the kid to school with these symptoms, but she wanted me to know.

If I can just try and save face for a quick moment, however, as God as my witness the boy left home that morning full of pep and I didn’t hear him cough once.  (No, really!)   

It was already nearing 3 p.m. when I got the call, so he was sent home on the bus, where I lovingly greeted him with some orange juice and cough drops.  The following morning he woke up feeling pretty good, but he did seem to be coughing more than the average bear, so I made an executive decision to keep him home. It was the day before Thanksgiving, so I figured now he’d have five days to recuperate and get rid of those nasty germs before heading back to class.

During the long weekend, some of our Mom’s Council members met up for a little leftover pie and wine (Merlot and pumpkin are actually a complimentary combination), and our discussion soon turned to kids, germs and what our personal guidelines were for sending our kids to school when they weren’t feeling completely up to snuff.

Marty Luongo, a nurse and mom of three, shared her view from both a professional and parental point of view.

“I am a nurse, and I work around the sick all the time. Throughout the years I have built up a pretty good immune system, but I make sure that I take off my work scrubs and wash up before I hug any of my kids when I get home. They bring home all sorts of ‘bugs’ from school, and pass it all around the house.  That’s just never going to change when it comes to a child heading into a school or daycare community.  It really is common sense – temperatures, vomiting, diarrhea, pink eye — those really should be non-negotiable when it comes to absolutely keeping your child home.

I think one of the biggest reasons that working parents do tend to send their kids to school is because they either have no one to watch the child when he is sick, or because they know their decision to stay home with a sick child will not be well received at their workplace. The fact is the children are most infectious when they are not feeling sick – this is when they shed the most viruses. It is impossible to keep kids from spreading germs unless you keep them in containment.  It is a normal and unavoidable part of childhood to have these common upper respiratory tract infections. Some experts believe that exposure to these infections are important to the development of the immune system and that we see so many allergic problems such as peanut allergy because our environment is too clean and germ free.”

TODAY.com and Parenting.com surveyed more than 26,000 moms and half have knowingly sent a sick kid to daycare or school. One of our council members, who wished to remain anonymous, tells it like it is.

“I don't think you can just keep kids home from school for mere colds. Flu, absolutely, but colds can last up to two weeks!  Are you going to stay home from work or keep your child out of school for two weeks? I know I'm not. If a child just has stuffy or runny nose and cough without a fever present... In my house, most of the time, that kid is going to school. I might let them stay home one day, but not the whole time they are presenting cold symptoms.”

The following guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics are really common sense, but we thought we’d share them anyway.

Does she have a fever?

Generally, a fever over 101 degrees or a fever at the beginning of an illness should be a sign that your child should stay home.

Does he feel well enough to participate in class?

Every kid and every illness is different. Some sick kids feel good enough to concentrate and get something out of going to school. Other kids are so out of it, they are better off staying at home.

Is she contagious?

If so, keep her at home. As any teacher will tell you, classrooms can be like Petri dishes. Kids can infect one another over and over. It's not fair to other children if your child brings germs to school. If you are not sure whether you should keep your child at home, talk with your pediatrician.

The Mayo Clinic had some facts about how viruses are spread and how to prevent them:  

How infections spread

Many childhood illnesses are caused by viruses. All it takes is a single child to bring a virus to school for the spread to begin. Consider this common scenario — a child who has a cold coughs or sneezes in the classroom. The children sitting nearby inhale the infected respiratory droplets and the cold spreads. Or perhaps a child who has diarrhea uses the toilet and returns to the classroom without washing his or her hands. Illness-causing germs might spread from anything the sick child touches to other children who touch the same object and then put their fingers in their mouths. 

Hand Washing — It Can’t Be Stressed Enough

Frequent hand-washing is one of the simplest — and most effective — ways to stay healthy in school. Remind your child to wash his or her hands before eating and after using the toilet, blowing his or her nose, or playing outside. Suggest soaping up for as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.  This is the one piece of advice that all our moms agreed should not be overlooked.  If our kids get into the habit of washing their hands properly, they truly can avoid some (not all) contagious germs.

Other School Health Tips

Common sense can go a long way toward staying healthy in school. In addition to frequent hand-washing, teach your child other school health basics:

  • Use hand sanitizer. Give your child alcohol-based hand sanitizer to keep in his or her desk. Remind your child to use the sanitizer before eating snacks or lunch and after using a shared computer mouse, pencil sharpener, water fountain or other community objects. You might also donate disinfecting wipes to the classroom for general use.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Give your child a package of tissues to keep in his or her desk. Encourage your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue — then put the tissue in the trash, and wash his or her hands or use hand sanitizer. If it isn't possible to reach a tissue in time, remind your child to cough or sneeze into the crook of his or her elbow.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes and out of your mouth. Remind your child that hands are often covered in germs.
  • Don't share water bottles, food or other personal items. Offer your child this simple rule — if you put the item in your mouth, keep it to yourself.

Also help your child avoid anyone who has a communicable infection. Close contact with a friend who is contagious — such as play dates or sleepovers — could lead to your child's own illness.

Of course, it's also important for your child to eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and stay current on his or her vaccinations — including a yearly flu vaccine. To prevent spreading illness at home, use the same tips for the entire family.

Have you ever sent your child to school, despite a sneaking suspicion he or she might be getting a cold or flu?  How are you planning to handle sick days for this flu season? Does your workplace put pressure on you to be in the office even when you’re sick?  

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.  If you have a question you’d like the Mom’s Council to tackle, please e-mail me at CB091987@aol.com or you can e-mail our editor, Stephen.Greenwell@patch.com.


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