≡ Menu

When is a Child too Sick to Play With Other Kids?

It’s winter. We’ve been in contact with lots of people who have had some pretty nasty bugs in the past few months – the 24 hour long vomit-fest that is the norovirus, chicken pox, and the run of the mill colds and flus. Thankfully (insert grateful knock on wood here) we’ve avoided most of it, probably because we had been staying home so much instead of going out to playgroups. But now we’ve started attending a regular playgroup and the question arises – how sick is too sick to play with other kids?

Teething Toddler

We were exposed to chicken pox about two months ago, and while I understand that chicken pox is a fairly mild childhood illness for most kids, I know a few can have serious complications. So when we were in the 10 day long “potentially contagious” period, I avoided playing in close, face-to-face situations unless I knew that the people we were playing with were ok with being exposed. In the end, we didn’t get the pox and my overly concerned precautions were for naught. We could have been going out to play for those 10 days and wouldn’t have infected anyone.

But I also know that not everybody has the luxury of being able to do this. Sometimes you’ve got to get out of the house, you have to go to work, your kid has to go to daycare, whatever. As homeschoolers we have the ability to choose to go out or not. I also made a conscious choice not to vaccinate my kids for chicken pox. These choices bring with them a greater feeling of responsibility – if I choose to go out with a sick or potentially contagious child when we could easily have chosen to stay home or vaccinate against that illness, I’m very much aware of the fact that I could be responsible for spreading the illness to others. Parents who can’t take any more sick days off work and bring their sneezing kid to daycare may feel absolved of that responsibility because it’s not as easy for them to stay home, and their responsibility to show up for work and provide for their family is greater than the responsibility to prevent a cold from spreading.

Doctors like Dr Sears usually say that kids should stay home from school or daycare when they have a fever, green snot, vomiting, diarrhea, pinkeye or other highly contagious illness. The common cold ducks under most of those doctor-approved “stay home” criteria, and so it’s not uncommon to find kids with colds at playgroups and daycares.

What symptoms are on your “stay home” list? When do you say your kids are healthy enough to go out to play with others?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Cynthia February 7, 2011, 12:45 am

    I was going to blog about the same issue myself! With such a wide range of parental preferences, I’m feeling even more unsure of when I should keep my kids home versus when we’re okay to go out despite a runny nose or cough. I’m just looking forward to the end of the cold season. We’re usually a pretty healthy bunch around here, but these past few weeks have felt like one cold after another. Even my introverted self is craving the company of others!!

    • michelle February 7, 2011, 9:22 am

      I know – it’s hard to know sometimes when to go out and when to stay in with a sick-ish kid. One thing I’ve decided is that it’s impossible to please everyone, and that any kid coming to a playgroup with some kind of sniffle or cough will probably get some sideways looks, whether or not it’s a serious illness or even contagious. The other thing I’ve concluded is that getting colds is just part of life with kids. So I try not to stress out about it too much and I do what I can to keep everyone healthy, like taking vitamin D to boost the immune system. Thankfully spring is just around the corner!

  • Michelle February 7, 2011, 9:39 am

    It depends on the situation. Coughs can linger a long time and who knows what a clear runny nose might be (teething? beginning of a nasty virus?). If my kids have more than a cough and/or a clear runny nose, they are not going anywhere that is not absolutely necessary. No sickness for them beyond that yet this winter. They tend to get sicker in the summer from being around more germs.

    I avoid exposing them to young babies even if it is just a minor cough or clear runny nose, and do leave them home if I can.

    • michelle February 7, 2011, 4:22 pm

      I do tend to err on the side of caution in terms of staying home when we’re sick, although I have also had times when being quarantined with my kids for one more day felt absolutely intolerable! It’s those days when I really wish I had another adult around who could tag-team with me and give me the chance to get out and interact, especially when the kids are sick but I’m not.

  • Leah February 7, 2011, 5:01 pm

    How timely that you posted this! I was home today with Kieran (and will be tomorrow as well and possibly longer) as he currently has pink eye, a runny nose, a cough AND an ear infection in both ears. Surprisingly he does not seem bothered by any of it. Being couped up inside is tough especially because neither of us are used to it!

    I do often send him to daycare with a runny nose because honestly if I kept him home every time he was sick then he would never go. It’s a fact of life with daycare that all of the kids share colds back and forth. I tell myself that it is helping him build a strong immune system!

    • michelle February 7, 2011, 9:31 pm

      Holy Moly! Poor Kieran. :( I’m amazed that he’s still in good spirits despite all that – when I’ve got a cold I’m definitely not at my best and that’s pretty mild compared to all that! You know, my doctor told me the same thing, that getting colds and viruses is a normal part of developing a healthy immune system. I guess it’s better to have a positive attitude about it, because it’s impossible to prevent kids from getting sick at all.

  • Rachael February 7, 2011, 7:15 pm

    The Critter was sent home from preschool with pinkeye on Tuesday last week. I stayed up until the wee hours of Wednesday morning finishing up the last of the work I had in my queue then, and then he stayed home with me for the rest of the week. I probably would have kept him at home with me anyway, but school policy says, no pinkeye!

    • michelle February 7, 2011, 9:48 pm

      Well, at least it’s a straightforward decision to keep him home when it’s clearly spelled out in the school policy. Claire puked in the car on the way to a playgroup field trip recently. I had no idea if she puked because she had jammed all her fingers in her mouth at once and triggered her gag reflex or if it was the beginning of a nasty stomach bug. Turned out she was totally fine – no virus at all. But there was no way to know at the time, so we turned around and went straight back home. Boo.

  • Lauren @ Hobo Mama February 8, 2011, 4:01 pm

    We’re skipping our second day of preschool because of this issue, and he goes only twice a week anyway. He’s had this persistent cold that’s hung around for a week now, and it’s really annoying that we feel the need to keep him home — but he really is a snot bucket, and has a bit of a cough.

    When I signed him up for the preschool, the directors saw that we hadn’t vaccinated and weren’t thrilled. I promised them I’d be extra cautious and keep him home if he’s sick, so I’m trying to make good on that. I’d hate for anyone at the school to catch something vaccine-related and blame it on my kid’s runny nose, whether it’s fair or not.

    I just hope he’s well by the next school day!!

  • Julia @ Natural Parents Network February 10, 2011, 7:51 am

    I recently had to examine and put in writing my thoughts on this issue when I had to put together a daycare contract for a 3 month old I would be watching in my home. I basically went with what you list that Dr. Sears listed for reasons to keep the child home whether it was my child or the other. We decided for it to be a case-by-case basis for colds and even fever is permitted depending what other symptoms accompany it. So far we haven’t had any illness but it will be interesting to see how it plays out when one of us gets sick.

Next post:

Previous post: