Does my child need a ‘sick day’ or should they be at school?

School sick days

‘Sick days’ have been a hot topic amongst parents for years, especially in determining how many school-classes children can afford to miss. According to the latest research, opinion is still divided, even in 2017.

Parents often have different standards about how sick their child must be, to take a day off school. It’s often tricky for families to measure their child’s symptoms against the work and activities they will miss in-class.

According to a nationwide poll recently conducted by the University of Michigan, 75% of American parents have given their child one ‘sick day’ away from school in the past year.

School sick days

Image courtesy of House Call Doctor

Which children are more likely to have a ‘sick day’?

The results show that younger children are more likely to have a sick day, as their parents are more concerned with health symptoms than schoolwork. In contrast, families with high-school students are more likely to prioritize upcoming tests and assignments over sickness.

Certain symptoms also seem to warrant a sick day more than others. Eighty per cent of the parents polled would not send their child to school with diarrhoea, whilst just 49% believed that fever required a day off.

“As an after-hours GP, I often treat school children who have developed unexpected illnesses overnight,” says Dr Tony Tanious from House Call Doctor in Brisbane. “Many of these families want to know if their child will be fit to attend school the next day.”

School sick days

Image courtesy of House Call Doctor

Which symptoms warrant a ‘sick day’?

“Symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting will be very disruptive for any child’s learning,” says Dr Tony. “However, symptoms like a runny nose, dry cough or mild allergy can usually be managed at school.”

Parents are also very aware of spreading infection to other school children.  In fact, most parents described contagion as a “major consideration” in giving their son or daughter a sick day.

“The families I meet after-hours also need to consider the logistics involved in giving their child a day off school,” says Dr Tony. “It’s not always possible for parents to work from home or take carer’s leave.”

In fact, 18% of parents reported that being unable to find someone to stay home with their sick child was an important logistical consideration. In these cases, a relative, friend or carer was not necessarily available.

Over one third of parents indicated they’d let their high-school aged child stay home from school unsupervised, even if this meant no adult was present to monitor their symptoms.


Which symptoms warrant medical assessment?

“It can be difficult to predict how a child’s symptoms will progress,” says Dr Tony. “Generally, changes in your child’s appetite, energy, disposition or temperature may require medical assessment.”

“However, parents should feel comfortable using their best judgment as a primary carer,” says Dr Tony. “Resources like after-hours doctors are also available to help with urgent medical issues.”

School sick days

Image courtesy of House Call Doctor

About the author: Dr Tony Tanious is a House Call Doctor providing after-hours medical care to children and families throughout Queensland. Dr Tony has achieved a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) and has trained in the United States, in Family and Emergency medicine. He has experience working within emergency and trauma. As part of the House Call Doctor team, Dr Tony is passionate about providing quality after-hours care to patients.

Other sources: University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, National Poll on Children’s Health 2017

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