sick toddler

If you’re wondering, ‘why is my child always sick?’ the answer might be day care. Kids attending day care or preschool centers are more likely to catch many contagious illnesses — like colds, the flu, and stomach viruses — for a number of reasons.

First, germs spread quickly in a day care environment. Young kids share toys, put their hands in their mouths, and touch each other’s hands and faces. Crawling babies, toddlers, and preschoolers are adorable — but they don’t always wash their hands well or cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze.

Also, a young kid’s immune system isn’t well developed yet and can’t defend the child from getting sick; it just hasn’t seen as many germs yet. That makes them much more likely to get sick from viruses and bacteria they come into contact with. The good news is that as kids catch more germs, their immune systems recognize them. So the next time they encounter those bugs, they don’t get sick, or at least not as ill.

Furthermore, kids’ little bodies are often more affected by illness than adults – a little nose gets stuffier more quickly, fever is more common, and poor eating or drinking has a bigger impact on bodies with less reserve. Little ones often feel or act “sick” but can’t quite say why or what hurts. This makes even the symptoms of a mild illness more demanding and the need to reach out for advice or a medical appointment much more likely.

My Child Gets Sick Every Two Weeks. Is this Normal?

For a child in their first year of day care, it’s expected that they seem to be sick every couple of weeks. This is especially true during cold and flu season (fall and winter) .

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s normal for young kids to get 10 to 12 respiratory infections in a year. These infections can cause coughs, runny or stuffed-up noses, and sometimes fevers. Respiratory infections in kids can last around ten days.

Sometimes these infections can occur one right after the other, often making it difficult to tell when one stops and the new one starts.

Stomach “bugs” that cause vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes fever are also more common in the first years of day care. Thankfully, they’re less common than respiratory infections and typically don’t last as long either.

With time, day care illnesses become less frequent. Still, day care-going kids tend to catch more sicknesses than kids with less exposure to other kids. Likewise, young kids get sick more often than kids ages six and above.

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Should You Keep Your Child Home for Common Day Care Illnesses?

Given how often kids get sick at day care, keeping them home until they no longer have symptoms isn’t easy, and many times, isn’t necessary. Most day cares and pre-schools have a set of standards that can help to guide you on making the decision of keeping your child home or not.

Generally, kids can go to day care with symptoms of common colds. These symptoms include:

  • Coughing.
  • A headache.
  • A runny or stuffy nose.

Sometimes kids need to stay home to avoid getting other kids sick. You should keep your child home from day care or preschool if they have:

  • Fever in the last 24 hours.
  • Vomiting two or more times in the last 24 hours.
  • Diarrhea that is frequent or leaks out of a diaper.
  • Severe abdominal pain.
  • Mouth sores that cause drooling (this is a common symptom of hand, foot, and mouth disease).
  • A confirmed case of COVID-19 or another contagious infection. This may require staying home for a number of days. Some infections, like ear infections and thrush (yeast infections)
    aren’t usually contagious. Others, like strep throat, are no longer contagious after starting treatment. Your child’s medical provider can help you to determine how many days to wait before they can safely return to day care.

A child’s behavior is a good indicator of if they should attend day care or preschool. They’re likely good to go if they play and eat as usual. However, an irritable child who doesn’t eat much and would rather lie down than play should probably stay home and rest.

As to whether you should keep your child at home with a rash, that depends. If your child has a rash and a fever, you should keep your child home and see a doctor. Some infections that cause these two symptoms, such as scarlet fever, require antibiotics to avoid health problems.

Other rashes may require covering the lesions before sending your child to day care. These include ringworm and impetigo. If you’re unsure what is causing a rash, check in with your pediatrician before sending your child to day care.

How to Prevent Common Day Care Illnesses

It’s tough to see a child miserable with a fever or to feel like you’re wiping your child’s runny nose raw. And it’s not easy to juggle a work schedule with tending to a sick child. Many sicknesses in day care are unavoidable — they’re simply a part of growing up and developing a strong immune system.

Supporting your child’s overall health can reduce how often and how long your child is sick. You can do this by:

  • Providing a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. A balanced diet can help support your child’s immune system.
  • Breastfeeding, or supporting your partner’s breastfeeding, for the first six months of life or longer. Breast milk contains antibodies that fight illnesses.
  • Ensuring your child gets enough sleep. These guidelines give a range of how much sleep a child should get by age.
  • Teaching your child proper hand-washing habits. Make sure they know to wash their hands frequently throughout the day, especially before eating or after using the restroom.
  • Talking to your day care provider about what illnesses they may be seeing and their policies and procedures for cleaning and disinfecting toys, surfaces, and other areas of the day care center.

Vaccinations for Day Care-aged Kids

The best way to protect your child’s health when going to day care is to make sure they stay up to date on their shots. Vaccines train your child’s immune system to recognize and destroy germs, preventing infections.

Your child’s doctor can discuss and provide all the vaccines that your child needs in their early years. These include vaccines against many illnesses that can spread in day cares, like chicken pox, rotavirus, and measles. In addition, kids six months and older should get the flu shot yearly and routine COVID vaccines.

Still Worried Your Child is Getting Sick Too Often?

Sometimes, kids who seem to always be sick or have more serious infections may have an underlying problem. This could include allergies, a resistant (hard to treat) infection, a more chronic medical condition, or, in rare cases, a weaker immune system. Catching such health issues early can be crucial so your child can get the best treatment.

Plan a visit with your pediatrician if your child:

  • Has four or more new ear infections in a year.
  • Has two or more serious sinus infections in a year.
  • Has an infection that doesn’t get better after two or more months on antibiotics.
  • Has two or more cases of pneumonia in one year.
  • Is not gaining weight or growing as expected.
  • Has thrush that keeps coming back or doesn’t go away.
  • Has had two or more serious infections, like a blood infection.

Your pediatrician may look for a reason to explain why your child is always sick beyond common day care illnesses and will have recommendations for additional ways to keep them healthy.

Sending your child to day care can mean bringing home germs and common illnesses, but day care also has many benefits including building social skills and a strong immune system. By taking some simple steps to keep your child healthy, you can help ensure that they have a positive experience, missing a few days along the way. Remember to stay home when sick , practice good hygiene and healthy habits, and stay in contact with your pediatrician and day care provider if you have any concerns.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

American Academy of Pediatrics. When to keep your child home from childcare. Link

American Academy of Asthma Allergy and Immunology. Cough in children. Link

Mary Sauer. When is a child too sick to go to daycare. BabyCenter. Link

The Jeffrey Modell Foundation. 10 warning signs of primary immune deficiency. Link

Parents Editors. Contagious or Not: A Parents' Guide to Common Childhood Illnesses. Parents. Link

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.