When to keep your child home from school

Photo: Tim Hawley/Getty
Photo: Tim Hawley/Getty 

They're borderline okay, you have to work, and you're trying to decide whether to send them to school or not.

It's a conundrum all parents face at one time or another, and often what we need are some simple guidelines on what constitutes the need to keep them home.

Dr Dasha Fielder says, "Most infections for children and adults are viral, they are contagious and usually spread from one person to another."

"Most viral infections only require supportive treatment such as hydration, rest and fever reducing medications such as paracetamol."

Dr Fielder's guidelines for when to send them back to school:

1. No fever for at least 24 hours, fever defined as temperature above 38 degrees celsius, without the use of medication

2. Child is eating and drinking

3. No rash

4. No diarrhoea for at least 24 hours

"In addition it is important to assess if your child would be able to last a full day at school, if they are sleepy, drowsy and lethargic I do not recommend sending them in."


Dr Fielder adds, "Time is required for the body to mount an immune response and fight infection. I say to patients that it takes on average 5-7 days for that process to occur so it's unreasonable to expect they will get better very quickly."

"Even if they have a bacterial infection and are prescribed antibiotic therapy it will take at least 24-48 hours for them to start working and having significant effect on illness."

Here's the advice in further detail:


Keep them at home if the fever is 38 degrees celsius or higher, which is the temperature at which an infection is beginning to take hold.

Once the fever has been under control for 24 hours without medicine, your child is fine to return to school.


Keep your child at home if he/she has vomited twice or more in the last 24 hours. A one-off vomit could be the result of something else like overeating or too much excited physical activity.


Stools that are loose or watery are a likely sign of a virus. Your child should be kept at home and they should drink lots of fluids.

If there is blood or mucus present, it could be a bacterial infection and your child needs to see a doctor. 

Respiratory issues

Coughing spreads germs to others and often keeps kids from sleeping properly. Keep your child home if they have a bad cough.

Any breathing difficulties need to be assessed by a doctor so school is definitely off the cards.


If your child has an unidentifiable rash that is spreading, he or she will need to have a doctor determine whether it's contagious or not.


While the term is used very frequently to describe kids who are simply tired, genuine unresponsiveness, dramatic change in behaviour or difficulty waking is a medical concern and your child will need to be seen by a doctor.

Specific Illness advice

While these are the more general symptoms, parents may also want advice about certain conditions.

NSW Health has produced a guide for specific illnesses. This guide does not replace the advice of a medical doctor.


Dr Dasha Fielder is a doctor at Sapphire Medical Practice