Sick kid etiquette: send them to daycare or keep them home?

It’s the morning rush and you are about to dash out the door – ready to do drop off at daycare before heading into work. But then you notice something … your child feels warm. What do you do?

Some parents believe that sending your sick kid isn’t so terrible – after all, isn’t it good for kids to be exposed to different germs so they can build their immune system? And if the child care has a commercial cleaning service that keeps the place hygienic, then what harm does it really do?

Other parents are adamant that it is just plain rude to send a sick kid into a room full of other children, and you should keep them at home even if that means having to take the day off work yourself. They don’t think it’s fair for their child to be coming home with a new cough, cold or tummy bug every other week.

So what is the right etiquette? Is there a middle ground?

Of course with some illnesses there shouldn’t even be a question. If your child has a highly contagious disease like chicken pox, measles, bronchitis or hand foot and mouth disease then you need to keep them at home. Even if you try to send them, you’d be turned away at the door.

But of course all ailments aren’t created equal and there are some instances where you may be questioning whether or not it’s ok to send your child to daycare. Here are some of the sicknesses that require you to keep the child home:

Colds and fever

If your child has a fever you should keep them at home. When a fever first strikes, you can’t be sure what it actually is. Although you may think it’s part of a simple head cold, it may turn out to be something highly contagious such as roseola, chicken pox or hand foot and mouth. In this case, you wouldn’t know until the contagious stage has already passed and it’s too late for the other kids at daycare. Aside from this, if your child has a fever it generally means they are feeling quite unwell so they won’t want to be in a noisy childcare centre anyway.

If they have a cold with fever, thick green snot and are waking during the night, keep them at home. The only time you could consider sending a child with a cold to preschool or daycare is if they only have clear, watery nasal secretions, no fever and are bright, happy and playful. This usually means they have already gone past the contagious stage and are in the tail end of the cold. If they are old enough, take this opportunity to remind them about good hygiene such as hand washing.

Diarrhoea or vomiting

It is amazing how fast diarrhoea or gastro can spread through a centre. It only takes a shared toy, drink bottle or hand contact and the other person can come down with the same bug. It can have a huge impact as the virus spreads through all of the children over a period of days, and it will also affect the workers. There may not be enough casual workers on stand-by to fill in if all of the regular staff are struck down by illness! How soon is too soon to send them back? Keep them home until 24 hours after their last vomit or diarrhoea.

Sore throat

Sore throats are very contagious. They will usually be accompanied by fever and white dots on the inside of the throat. If this is the case, it is necessary for you to keep your child away from daycare for a few days – until the fever has broken and the throat has cleared up.

Head lice

OK head lice is not a sickness, but let’s be honest it’s a huge pain to have to deal with. Especially if you end up getting 20 outbreaks of nits in a year. If your child has lice, keep them home until you’ve got it sorted and then send them in. It will help keep your daycare free from the parasite and prevent further outbreaks.

When is it ok to send them?

Sometimes you can send your child along to daycare even if they aren’t 100%. They might have something that isn’t contagious and isn’t making them feel unwell, so there isn’t much point keeping them at home. Here are some examples of when you can usually send your child to daycare:


Allergies often look and sound like a cold, with runny noses, a wheezing chest and watery eyes. However, sometimes it is something as innocent as hayfever and it isn’t at all contagious. If you know your child suffers from hayfever and they seem happy aside from the itchy eyes and runny nose, it’s probably fine to send them.


Children can often develop a cough that is not at all related to an illness. A change in weather or asthma can be common causes and these are no reason to keep a child at home. If you are unsure, listen to the cough. One caused by the reasons mentioned will be dry. A wet, chesty sounding cough is usually caused by sickness.

On a final note, children who are sick have lowered immune systems. So keeping them away from daycare when they aren’t well not only stops the unnecessary spread of illness to other kids, but it will mean they recover faster as well.

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