What to Do When Your Kid Is Sick
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Bethanne Kim  

What to Do When Your Kid is Sick

I’m pretty sure we’re not the only family where Mom goes to all the pediatrician appointments. I’m sure there are also families where dad goes and Mom doesn’t. Either way, if you aren’t the parent who usually helps the sick kids, here is a short guide to what to do when your kid is sick. There’s even a quick online quiz to help you know if they are too sick for (pre)school.

School (Including Preschool)

If your child has a temperature of over 101.1, they are required to stay home from school until they have been fever free without medication for at least 24 hours. That means that if you give them Tylenol or Motrin to take down the fever, the 24 hour clock doesn’t start until the medication wears off. (The bottle will say how many hours between doses, which tells you how long before it wears off.) This helps keep the other kids healthy.

Call the school and tell them your child is home sick. They will need your child’s name, grade, and teacher’s name as well as their basic symptoms so they can track any illnesses running through the school. You will also need to send a written note with them when they return to school stating their name, the days they were out, and the diagnosis, even if it’s just “head cold”.

My experience is that they won’t send work home until they’ve been home at least two or (usually) three days, and then only if you ask and go in to pick it up. Unless they are really struggling in a class or have a heavy course load (usually not an issue until high school), it’s easier to just let them wait until they go back and collect all the make-up work. The exception to this is if they are out for a week or more; then it makes sense to pick up their work so they can start on it before they get too far behind.

The Doc

Call and make an appointment as soon as you realize they are home sick or when the doctors office opens, whichever comes first. If they don’t have any appointments left, and they are filled first-come first-serve, find the closest Urgent Care that takes your insurance and go there. Call the doc first, though, because insurance may not pay for Urgent Care unless you tried and your regular doc doesn’t have an opening. The office will need all the same things they need for a grown-up appointment like insurance cards, list of symptoms, medications and time taken, etc. Your kids will need entertainment, just like they do any other time, and any comfort objects, like blankies, they are still attached to.

Frankly, the Doc knows which parent they normally see. If it’s not you, they’ll adjust their expectations accordingly. If the kid has a fever, the Doc will want to know how high it was, when it started, and what medications they have taken and when. Just take a picture of the medicine bottle if you aren’t 200% certain you’ll remember. Even after years of giving meds, I rarely recall if I gave Tylenol, Motrin, or Advil for a fever since they all work fairly interchangeably for my kids and I grab whichever is more convenient, or the one they ask for.


Your kids may go to the same pharmacy as you, but they may not, especially if you chose a pharmacy because it’s close to your work or your doctor. Your kids’ probably go to one close to home or their doctor. It’s best to just go there for them because they will know about any regular medications the kid takes, like allergy or asthma meds, and potential interactions. Sometimes kids receive flavored medicine. If so, they may have their flavor preference already noted at their regular pharmacy.

Old prescription bottles have the pharmacy information printed on them, if you can find one, but don’t stress if you don’t know and can’t find the information. The doctor’s office should have it on file and can tell you. Many doctors now electronically send prescriptions directly to the pharmacy without the patient ever handling the script, although you can ask for a paper script instead.

The Best Thermometer

I always had trouble with mercury thermometers (remember those?). We had several different digital thermometers, but I finally went on a hunt for a truly reliable one when we got a reading of 106.7 His fever was high – but not THAT high! We ended up buying a high-end thermometer from Welch Allyn that is just like our doctors use and have been happy with it for many years. I recommend buying the “probe covers” to really ensure germs are not shared.

The Braun ear thermometer and this forehead thermometer are also very well regarded, and much less expensive. Many cheap thermometers (the $10 and under variety) are not worth buying. As with our experience, they are so unreliable, or can become so unreliable, that they are useless. It is entirely possible your little one will have a fever but the thermometer won’t register it, and that is, of course, a bad thing.

Sick People Food and Entertainment

Soup, crackers, gelatin, pudding, ginger ale (check to ensure it actually contains ginger, which can help with nausea), and anything else soft and easy to eat makes good food for anyone who’s sick. Just think about what you like to eat when  you aren’t feeling well, but keep in mind that kids are picky. Buy the flavors they like.

Sick kids can be fussy, unhappy, clingy little people, even if they are high schoolers who are taller than you. They may not need you near them, but they also might need 110% of your attention, so be prepared for that. Try to take the time to enjoy the fact that they need you and give them some good snuggles. When our kids are sick, I binge watch TV shows with them and get caught up on new movies we’ve bought but not yet watched. As much as I hate to see my kids sick, I do love having them cuddle me and watch hours of TV together. And yes, we do also read together when they are sick, but they mostly read to themselves now.

School Guidelines

As a point of reference, here are a set of guidelines from my kids’ school:

Parents of students who become ill or injured during the school day will be notified to come to school for the child. This will include students with a fever of 100.0 and over, severe cough, colds with thick or constant nasal discharge, vomiting or diarrhea, unusual rashes, difficulty breathing or difficulty moving without pain after an injury. Students who are ill with fevers, or vomiting or diarrhea will need to remain at home until the symptoms have been gone for 24 hours. Conjunctivitis (pink eye), strep infections, ringworm, and impetigo are all infections, and must be treated with medication for a minimum of 24 hours before returning to school. These regulations are to keep illness from spreading, so please keep your child at home if they are ill.

NON-MEDICATED PRODUCTS Products including saline or contact lens solution, petroleum jelly, Clearasil, lip balm, hand lotion, insect repellent and sunscreen may be carried and appropriately used in school: however no spray or aerosol products are permitted.

COUGH DROPS/THROAT LOZENGES Students in grades K-12 may carry and appropriately use cough drops/ throat lozenges provided they are in the original packaging. Students may not share under any circumstances.

If students require prescription medication during the school day a written order from the physician is required. The medication must be in a container which has a current pharmacy label. If students require an over the counter medication, a new sealed container must be provided that is not expired. Parents must complete and sign a form for either the prescribed and/or the over the counter medication. All types of medication must be brought to school by an adult, students cannot carry medication to school. The forms are on the School Clinic web page, and available for download by the physician or parent. All over the counter medicines must follow package directions, or a doctor’s order will be necessary.

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