Kinderling Conversation's Shevonne Hunt tackles the big question: when should you keep your child home from day care?
The parent’s perspective
Most parents use day care because they work. Waking on a morning when you have several big meetings and a deadline to meet, with a child looking poorly and saying they feel sick is every parent’s nightmare.
This is one example of how the morning may then play out.
Phase One: Denial
Have an argument with your partner about how sick your child really is (one parent is certain to argue that they’re not that sick).
Following on from this argument you wonder if, as the advocate for the sick child, you must be the one to take a day off work.
Knowing you can’t afford time off work you start wondering if the grandparents can step in again to look after the child.
After realising the grandparents are unable to watch your sick child as they are already looking after your sister’s kids, you go to step two.
Phase Two: Bargaining
Agonise over your first instinct that your child is sick. Are they really sick? Or is it just a cold?
Phase Three: Acceptance
Have an argument with your partner about who can afford to have a day off work.
All of this is conducted with a sense of parental angst, knowing that what you really should do is simply stay at home with your child.
The day care’s perspective
Let’s suppose you convince yourself they’re not as bad as you thought. You take a deep breath and drop them off at day care. Possibly with a syringe of Panadol before you leave, just to be safe.
What does a sick child look to from an educator’s perspective?
Charlynn Lim works at Gumnut Gardens in Sydney.
“Having a sick child not only puts other children at risk but also the educators who care for them. This is especially the case for highly infectious and contagious illnesses. We work in ratios of one to four for infants, one to five for toddlers and one to ten for preschoolers so this definitely becomes impacted when one educator has to essentially be ‘off the floor’ to attend to one sick child.”
And don’t be deceived. The Panadol will wear off and as the educators watch your child start to deteriorate, they’ll know exactly what you’ve done!
“Essentially, we believe that if a child is not feeling 100 percent well and requires constant one-on-one attention, they should be kept home.”
The doctor’s perspective
Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko is a GP at Bondi Road Doctors. She looks after many families with young children and has three of her own.
From her perspective, if your child is feverish, looking unwell or not their usual self, they should not be attending day care.
When you really need to keep them home:
- Children should not attend day care after gastroenteritis until they have not had an episode of vomiting and/or diarrhoea for at least 24 hours.
- Keep kids home if they have a red discharging eye
- If your child is coughing and spluttering they should be at home.
The problem of the eternally runny nose
If you have a child who goes regularly to day care, you know that keeping them home every time they have a runny nose would mean never working again.
Elysia says, “If they are only mildly snotty and the snot isn’t pouring everywhere and isn’t all over their face and hands, then it should be ok to attend … it all depends on the degree! Certainly, if there are copious amounts, they should stay at home as a courtesy to the other children and staff, especially if they have any other symptoms like a spluttering cough”.
Listen to Kinderling Conversation:
When is it OK to send kids back to child care?
Let’s assume you followed your instinct and kept them home. When can you send them back?
“A child is usually still contagious if they have obvious symptoms and they themselves are not behaving in their usual healthy, active way. In most cases, a well, active and happy child, with no ‘active’ symptoms, is usually no longer contagious, yet it does all depend on the specific infection and on the individual’s resilience," Elysia says.
“If parents trust their instinct and observe the pattern of behaviour of their child, they will know when their child is unwell and/or contagious, and in these cases staying away from child care is the best decision as well as seeking medical advice when you need assistance, advice and guidance”.
The final conclusion: it’s our responsibility to keep them home
Not all parents have the luxury of taking sick leave when their children are unwell, and juggling work and family life is difficult. It’s especially difficult for single parents.
But the harsh truth is the buck stops with us.
It’s not up to child care workers to nurse them. And you know when your child needs you. It’s a feeling deep down in your bones that they belong in your arms watching TV and drinking copious amounts of orange juice.
If you still doubt your instinct, check their temperature and their pallor. Ask yourself, are they their usual, happy self? If the answer is no, if they have a temperature, if they’re pale and sad, keep them home.
In the end it’s actually quite simple.
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