I admit it freely – I jumped at the chance to keep my oldest daughter home from school yesterday. Her class had a field trip to Denver’s annual Stock Show, which is a souped-up rodeo, complete with cows, sheep, horses and who knows what else. I have nothing against farm animals or cowboys, but I was not too excited about the long bus trip (can someone please tell me why there are no seat belts in school buses?). In addition, the Stock Show happens in this cold, drafty building and the forecast was for temperatures in the low 30s. Not to mention a bunch of muddy, germy animals and kids all jammed together in one place. If she were not sick already, surely she would be soon.
Therefore, when my daughter had a little cough and a low-grade temperature in the morning, I firmly insisted that somewhere cold and muddy was no place to be and kept her home for the day. The fact is, however, that I am not sure that my case would hold up in court. Her fever was around 100 degrees and she was generally acting normally. Should I have let her go on the trip?
I did a little research intended to soothe my guilty conscience but what I found only made me realize that she was probably fine and could have gone on the field trip. What I discovered is worth sharing for the rest of you folks who probably are not as uptight as I am when field trips are concerned but don’t always know when a kid is sick enough to stay home.
My daughter’s fever was around 100 degrees, which seemed like a logical definition of a fever, but I got it wrong: In order to qualify as a fever in a child over the age of 4 months old, the temperature has to be 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or more. She was close, yes, but technically not feverish. Had she been under age 4 months, though, any temperature over 98.6 degrees would have been cause for a call to the pediatrician.
One of the best indicators of illness in a child is behavior, which is something I knew but chose to ignore yesterday. Doctors say that if your kid is acting normally is interested in typical activities and seems as if things are more or less okay, chances are good that things are actually okay. And yes, a kid who can’t wait to go see the cows and horses counts as a kid who is acting normally.
One of the illnesses that I dread most is the stomach flu. The stuff is viciously contagious and vicious in all other ways as well, mercilessly affecting everyone in its wake and leaving me cleaning up vomit at 2am and bemoaning the fact that the rest of the family is sure to get sick as well. However, experts note that if a child only throws up once in a 24-hour period, the problem is usually minor and does not necessarily indicate the flu or something else contagious. Again, behavior is an important indicator here. If your child is acting totally fine a few hours later and is eating and drinking normally, heave a sigh of relief and move on. If your child throws up two or more times in 24 hours and is not eating or drinking well, send them to bed and get ready to play nurse for the next day or two.
Another gross fact when you have kids is diarrhea. Some things I could just do without seeing, smelling or hearing, even from my own beloved children. The good news is if your kid only poops once and then resumes normal activities and eating and drinking, school is a go. More than two or three times a day and the kid needs to stay home. After all, do you want to have to go somewhere when you have the runs? Yeah, neither do I.
A few weeks ago, my son’s preschool teacher sent out an email notifying parents that one of the students in the class had strep. (She did not specify who to protect confidentiality.) I kept an eye on my son, who seemed unaffected. A few days later, another note came out. Still, nothing on my end. However, that night he woke up crying and saying his ear hurt. I hauled him in to the pediatrician’s office for an ear infection check the next day and asked them to run a strep test, just in case. Sure enough, he had both, even though he had not complained about a sore throat at all. Strep can be a sneaky little illness (read here), so if you know the stuff is going around, be extra vigilant. Moreover, if your child has a fever, swollen lymph nodes and a really sore throat, chances are good that strep is to blame.
When it comes down to it, follow your instincts. If you think your kid is sick, chances are that something is wrong. In addition, if you have a feeling that your child is okay, despite some mild symptoms, that is probably true too. Even if it does mean they go get on a school bus to go to a field trip. (Sorry, kiddo! Next time, I promise.)