When Can a Toddler Return to Day Care After Being Sick?

By Leyla Norman
Thermometers that measure body temperature in the armpit are the least accurate type.
Thermometers that measure body temperature in the armpit are the least accurate type.

Your toddler's illness may have almost completely disappeared, but discerning whether she needs one more sick day before she returns to day care can be difficult. Your judgment and your day care’s individual rules for allowing previously ill children back to school will determine when she can come back. Depending on your child's symptoms, you may need to work with your child’s health care provider and the day care’s director to determine if she can return.

Day Care Rules

Day cares typically publish the rules they have for when a toddler can return after being ill in their parent handbooks. In general, a child can return if he has been free of a fever of more than approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit, vomiting and diarrhea for at least 24 hours. The National Health and Safety Performance Standards, Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs from the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education suggest child-care programs temporarily exclude children with a fever of 101 degrees or higher. Day cares also have other rules for when a child can return after having a contagious illness, such as being on antibiotics for 24 hours. Your day care may require a doctor's written permission before your child can return, depending on your child's symptoms.

Your Instinct

If your child is fatigued, out of sorts, irritable or clingy, you might want to consider giving her another sick day. A runny nose doesn’t necessarily mean she should stay home from school unless she is exhibiting other symptoms that slow her down, such as a fever. If you feel your child simply isn’t up to going to school even after her illness has mostly run its course, keep her home.


If your child had a fever, the fever must have broken on its own, without medication, for the 24-hour period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's flu informational pamphlet. Most day cares will enforce this general fever rule for any illness. Coughing and sneezing to the point that your child cannot function well during the day are other symptoms that indicate he should stay home. Your child should also be free from diarrhea for 24 hours before he returns to day care. Additionally, bring any new rash, discharge or other unexplained symptom to the attention of your child's health care practitioner before returning him to school.

Returning to Work

If you must return to work, you have a few options for child care if your child is not ready to go back to school. Some communities offer sick-child centers where children can relax during the day while you work. These are not cheap, but they may offer an alternative to missing another day of work. Some nanny agencies also offer prescreened sick-day nannies to come to your home to care for your child while you are ill. Check out reputable child-care websites to find a babysitter in your area who will take care of sick children. It is best to have a care plan in place before your child is sick.

About the Author

Leyla Norman has been a writer since 2008 and is a certified English as a second language teacher. She also has a master's degree in development studies and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology.