Parents consider several factors when keeping a sick child home from school


When deciding whether to keep their child home from school, 4% of parents contacted a health care provider for advice.

Poll: Factors parents consider for their child's sick day | Image Credit: © Suzi Media - © Suzi Media -

Poll: Factors parents consider for their child's sick day | Image Credit: © Suzi Media - © Suzi Media -

Key takeaways:

  • A national poll from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital surveyed parents of middle and high schoolers about school attendance when their child isn’t feeling well.
  • Parents base their decision on whether to keep their child home on factors like the child's ability to make it through the day (59%), the risk of spreading illness (54%), and the child's behavior (40%).
  • Concerns about academic impact (65%), missing friends or activities (61%), and the need for mental health days (19%) also influence parental decisions.

Parents with children in school generally face the following question a few times each year; “I don’t feel good, can I stay home from school?”

According to a recent poll from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, several factors contribute to the decision the parent makes, and whether their child will stay home or head to the classroom despite feeling under the weather.

The National Poll on Children’s Health asked a national sample of parents of children in middle school and high school about attendance when the child isn’t feeling well. The survey was administered in February 2024 to a randomly selected, stratified group of adults who were parents of at least 1 child aged 0 to 18 years living in their household (n = 2057).

According to the poll, this number “closely resembles the US population” and was weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The report is based on responses from 1300 parents with at least 1 child aged 11 to 18 years attending junior high or high school.

For scenarios in which it is unclear if their child is sick enough to miss school, 53% of parents reported they are more likely to keep their child at home to be safe. A quarter of parents would send their child, and 19% of parents reported they would let their child decide. Four percent of parents stated they would call the child’s health care provider for advice.

The thought process in deciding whether or not to keep the child home from school has several aspects. According to poll results, 59% of parents said they take into account whether their child “thinks they can make it through the day.” Fifty-four percent said they take into account whether the child will pose a risk to other students or the teacher. Nearly 40% of parents will base a decision partially on how the child is behaving.

School circumstance tends to be a factor in the decision as well, as 34% of parents take into consideration if their child has a test or presentation, while 12% account for an after-school activity they want to attend. Seventeen percent of parents said the decision can depend on if the parent can stay home with them.

One in 5 parents, or 19%, stated they consider if their child needs a “mental health day.” Reports of the child worrying about a negative impact on grades due to missing school were stated by 65% of parents, while 61% said that their child worries about missing friends or school activities. Make-up work timeframes are considered reasonable by 78% of parents.

In the current school year (through February), 15% of parents stated their child has missed 6 or more days of school. Twenty-one percent reported the child missed 4 to 5 days, 31% said the child missed 2 to 3 days, and 33% reported that their child has missed 0 to 1 day. Parents who reported their child has 6 or more missed days were more likely to believe that “the school’s attendance policy encourages parents to send sick children to school and makes it difficult for children with a medical condition,” according to the report.

Parents have mixed feelings on school attendance policies, as 74% believe a policy is needed to make sure children are in school, but 25% feel the policy proves difficult to deal with for children with medical conditions. Twenty-two percent of parents said the policy encourages them to send their child to school even if they are sick.

Parents reported the following consequences for missing too many days:

· A note or call home (63% of parents)

· Doctor’s note requirement (49% of parents)

· Meet with school staff requirement (35% of parents)

· Charged with a truancy violation (41% of parents)

· Child not allowed to participate in activities (21%)

Overall, parents took into consideration several factors when deciding to keep their child home from school when they are sick. One in 5 parents noted they consider whether their child needs a “mental health day,” which could reflect an increased concern for mental health concerns among children.

The authors of the poll, related to children with chronic medical conditions, noted it could be helpful for parents of these children to inform the school about the likelihood of health-related absences. Parents can also enlist “the child’s [health care] providers for support in requesting school flexibility in completing assignments at home or with additional time,” the poll authors concluded.


Too sick for school? Parents weigh competing priorities. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. March 25, 2024. Accessed April 9, 2024.

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