At this time of the year it can feel like almost everyone around you is sneezing or sniffing – so it’s likely your child will come home having caught a cold. Whether they have a little sniffle or sound really bunged up, how do you know when they’re too ill to go to school?
Paediatrician Keir Shiels says he often gets asked this by parents – but there’s very rarely a precise answer. The main reasons to keep a child out of school are: 1) If by going to school the child puts other children at risk; 2) If the child will be incapable of engaging with school activities; and 3) If by going to school the child will not be able to comply with a prescribed regimen of medication.
Other children are only “at risk” if your child has something serious or very contagious. “You can’t stop children sharing colds,” says Shiels. “If your child is recovering from chicken pox or diarrhoea, there’s specific advice available for when your child stops ‘being contagious’.
“However, most coughs and colds don’t fall into this category and, whilst they can be passed on to other children, they aren’t generally risky diseases. Don’t wait for your child to be cough-free or snot-free before sending them to school.”
Don’t wait for your child to be cough-free or snot-free before sending them to school."
That being said, not all colds are the same. Shiels second point is important – if your child has a fever, they won’t be able to concentrate and they’ll have low energy. Similarly, if they’re struggling to breathe, they won’t be able to deal with sums or spellings. “Look at how easily distractible your child is – are they able to play, sing, watch TV like normal?” he says.
“Or are they very out of character? Are they eating and drinking? A headache is often resolved with a steamy shower and some Calpol. If your child doesn’t have a fever and is easily distractible, they are probably well enough for school.”
To this extent, there are no hard and fast rules about when you should keep them off school – as parents, you have to exercise some common sense.