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Snotty-Nosed Kid Season

The colds started sometime in November.

You know the symptoms. Snot of varying colors. Ear infections. Coughs. Pink eye. Nausea. More snot -- who knew those little bodies could be so prolific? It wasn't just my kids. These little sickies have been everywhere I've been turning lately -- at school, at the library, at the ice rink, filling the doctor's office beyond capacity. And it's not just kids. Parent friends, and even one of my son's teachers, have been feeling the effects of winter illnesses.

Two kids and seven years into this world we like to call parenting, I've realized that I've become more hardened about the spread of the common winter colds. After all, I stopped by a friend's house and played with her 2-year-old, whose nose wouldn't stop oozing. And when I brought my youngest son to play at another friend's house, and the kid came out with nose full of green, I didn't call off the fun. Nor did I send a runny-nosed kid away from one of our birthday parties. If I tried to keep my own kids home for all the days that they're sick, people might think we're in hibernation.

For some parents on DC Urban Moms and Dads, though, the question of when parents should keep kids home has sparked some interesting chatter on when sick kids should and shouldn't have to be kept home. Here's the question posted by one mom:

Today I was at the library for baby lapsit and this woman was there with her CLEARLY sick child. The kid had a pale face, watery eyes, seemed lethargic and sounded like she was going to cough up a lung. The woman acted like she didn't even notice! I almost got up and left with my (thankfully) healthy baby girl. Maybe I should have, instead I just gave what I hoped was a dirty look. Knowing me it probably resembled a smile.
Another acquaintance of mine came to playgroup a few weeks ago with a feverish baby (she told us later) who later ended up admitted to the hospital with RSV and then pneumonia.
When I told my husband he said, "Why don't moms say something to these people?" I am very non-confrontational and never have the nerve -- but should I get over it and say something next time? What would you do?

My thought is that a sick kid at a library is par for the course. It's not much different than bringing a sick kid to play at a park in the summer. But, following most daycare and preschool rules, a feverish child belongs home.

What about you? What's your answer for this mom? Do you ever question another parent's decision to bring their sick child to events? What would you say if someone questioned you?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  January 9, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Babies
Previous: When Is It Worth Torpedoing Eat/Wake/Sleep Routine? | Next: Dad Jailed for Unsportsmanlike Conduct


"Today I was at the library for baby lapsit..."

What is baby lapsit?

"I am very non-confrontational and never have the nerve -- but should I get over it and say something next time? What would you do? "

Grow a spinal column. Speak to the library staff. No one can abuse you without your permission.

Posted by: jezebel3 | January 9, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

I think the library and the park are two totally different situations. At the library, it's a concentrated area with lots of things for kids to touch and not much room for air to circulate. Bringing a very sick kid there is wrong, full-stop. A simple runny nose is ok, if the parent/caregiver is on top of the tissue situation and the kid's not smearing gunk everywhere.

The park is outdoors. Kids are further apart and there's plenty of fresh air. I still wouldn't bring a lethargic or feverish kid out, but that's more for the kid's own good than from a fear of infecting others.

When DD was tiny, I'd keep her home from playgroup/friend's houses/etc. if she had so much as a runny nose. And it would annoy me if friends brought their own snotty kids around without at least warning me first. Infants with colds are just so miserable that I thought I wasn't being too uptight.

I've since unclenched. I still won't bring DD to an indoor play area if she has a cold, and I still resent parents who do. But my friends and I have decided to loosen up when it comes to playgroup and playdates. Inevitably, it gets spread around, anyway (usually before we even realize what's coming), and there's no point in 12 snotty kids staying home separately when they could be playing together.

Posted by: newsahm | January 9, 2009 7:30 AM | Report abuse

Kids get fevers for all kinds of non-contageous reasons including ear infections and roseola. It makes it hard on a kid who is feeling okay but is a bit hot to sit out the day. Not all fevers are the same.
As a parent of a three year old, I make a decision based on three factors: 1) is he having diarrhea or vomiting? Two factors that are both messy and indicate a more immediate problem; 2) does he feel like going outside versus staying inside and playing; 3) if what is causing the fever is infectious.
I think its important for all of us as parents to give each other the benefit of the doubt in situations. If you see a parent in a library with a sick kid maybe ask whether they need a kleenex or if you can be of some help. Kids being sick is hard on everyone, having some compassion is the right thing to do.

Posted by: knoelle11 | January 9, 2009 7:34 AM | Report abuse

You know what, they are gonna get sick sooner or later. Que sera sera - you can't control other people. Besides, most people are infectious even before they are symptomatic, so that "well" kid in the grocery store could be leaving your child a little gift on the cart anyway. I try to think of it this way - once they've had a cold or other virus, it is something they never have to have again - hydrate and move forward.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 9, 2009 7:35 AM | Report abuse

"should I get over it [sick child in public] and say something next time?"

NO Stacey, you're doing the right thing by keeping your mouth shut. There's nothing you can tell a mother of a sick child that the mother doesn't already know, sow what's the point? To try to get her to feel guilty? to prove that you can be as snotty as her child?

The correct thing to do when you see somebody suffering is to ask what you can do to help. If you aren't willing to put out the effort to help, a look of sympathy will do fine, or simply protect yourself and stay clear of the sick child. If you were to say something, your concern should be for the suffering, not yourself.

"following most daycare and preschool rules, a feverish child belongs home."

Daycare and preschool rules don't dictate that you keep your feverish child at home. They just don't accept them at their facility because they don't have the resources to take care of sick children or want the infection to spread to the other kids.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | January 9, 2009 7:55 AM | Report abuse

I am pretty tolerant about coughs and colds, but there was a little girl in my daughter's dance class who was coughing up a lung and actually coughed phlegm out onto the dance floor twice (her mom would just go in and clean it each time and roll her eyes). I finally said to the mother, "it doesn't look like she's feeling that great". The mother gave me a dirty look! I was about to engage, but the instructor came out and told the mom that she couldn't allow her daughter in class today. It was hard not to smile, but I didn't. That mom never spoke to me again. Which is fine with me.

I am, however, uber-careful about stomach bugs. I hate the stomach thing.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 9, 2009 8:03 AM | Report abuse

I let my kid's mood and actions dictate just how sick she is. If she's got a snotty nose and cough but is happy as a clam, I'm not inclined to keep her in. If she has no fever and no snot but is exhausted and pale and cranky, we stay in. I've never known her to be feverish and happy, but if she were, I'd still keep her in.

I have to say, though, I'm not a germphobe. I think it's because I very rarely get sick, and generally that's just a cold every year or 2. If I were getting sick all the time, I'd be more vigilant. The one time in memory I had a germphobe fit was at the ER recently, but I think that's completely reasonable, having a 22 month old and being pregnant and being surrounded by oozing, ghastly illnesses.

Posted by: atb2 | January 9, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

I am very vigilant with stomach viruses. They tend to spread like wild fire and there is nothing grosser. After all five of my girls went down one after the other for three days each of puking each last winter I thought I was going to lose it. So, if my kids have diarrhea or vomiting we stay home until 24 hours after it stops. For coughing and runny noses I use other symptoms as a gauge. If it's a playdate I usually call the other parents to offer them the option of cancelling if they are uncomfortable. I appreciate the same.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | January 9, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Usually my kids go from well to sick in about 30 seconds flat, and get better just as quickly, so usually when they're sick, they really don't feel like going anywhere anyway. When they do have that lingering thing but want to go out, I have to judge the risk to the other folks we might meet (basic golden rule stuff) -- runny nose, not a problem; fever and green snot, problem.

But if it's something like a playdate, where they're going to be spending a lot of time in close proximity to someone else, I don't think it's entirely my choice. I call and let them decide. Seems like basic common courtesy; other people have different germophobe thresholds than I do, so they should get to decide for themselves.

Posted by: laura33 | January 9, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Also from DC Urban Moms and Dads:


Posted by: jezebel3 | January 9, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

i think it all depends on the illness & the age of the child. i wigged out much more easily when my son was an infant. now i pretty much figure that exposure to germs gives his immune system a chance to do it's job.

a snotty nose while icky looking isn't bad. skin rashes don't faze me too much. fevers & coughs need to be watched. vomiting is awful to go through but tends to be only a 24 hour thing.

i read some where that sara roosevelt was so protective of her son, fdr, that she kept him home with tutors. his first several years at boarding school he caught every bug that came his way.

Posted by: quark2 | January 9, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

The kids don't get near as sick as we do. They bring the stuff home, but they are healthy.

Anyway, if the kid has a runny nose, I'll take them places. At the age he's at (3) it's not unusual. He's usually happy as a clam, but again (as said above) if he wasn't, then I'd keep him home, maybe take him to the dr, only because it would be a rare occurrence. I got a call from preschool a few weeks ago that my child had a I went to take him home. He was really quite lethargic. I called the doctor and they said give him advil, monitor it, etc. The next day he wasn't getting better, so I took him to the minuteclinic, which was a good thing - he had an ear infection. She didn't even test for strep, although he might have had it in any event, since he was going to be given antibiotics.

I wouldn't say anything to a mom - people get so uptight, and they already know what you're going to tell them. As in the dance example above - it's up to the teachers to say something. If you don't like how it's handled you can discuss with the 'authority' (teacher, whoever) afterwards. If you're still unhappy, find a place where you're happy...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 9, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Guess I fall into the germaphobe category but then again if my DD gets sick then so do I, every single time. Maybe someday I can move towards a more balanced sounding solution (i.e. don't worry about a runny nose but stay home with the stomach flu).

Posted by: ishgebibble | January 9, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Like some of the other moms here, I'm like that high-strung cartoon cat that screams to the ceiling when startled if someone mentions "stomach bug" to me. Somehow my husband always manages to sleep through it all, and I'm the one stuck on vomit squad. Absolutely disgusting! I can tolerate it better when it's a gut bug that gives them the runs, as it's easier to keep a kid hydrated when it's coming out that end as opposed to them vomiting, but stomach bug season always turns me into this super-leery, hand-washing germ Nazi. Being in fire/rescue, I can handle most bodily fluids with little or no difficulty apart from having to take precautions like using gloves on patients or what have you. Blood, snot, poo (I can even tolerate the green-apple two-step to a point), pee...I can handle those with no trouble. However, if you get me around somebody who's doing the Technicolor yawn, it's like handing Kryptonite to Superman! I still can't even watch our cat yak, it makes me want to!

That having been said, I have three main rules for keeping my kids home. If there's a fever involved that's higher than 101, if there's a contagious rash like impetigo or chicken pox (they've gotten the Varicella vaccine, but we all know it's not 100% effective), if they've got the aforementioned green-apple two-step or they're puking their brains out, no school for them until the symptoms resolve. If they've just got a cough and/or a stuffy or runny nose but are otherwise acting normal, let 'em go about their day and keep plenty of Kleenex handy! They're just going to catch cold germs from everybody else no matter what you do anyway (even if we've gotten the cold already, we still track the germs in), so no sense trying to keep them in a bubble. Besides, it keeps their immune systems turning over normally.

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | January 9, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

We only have the kids on weekends generally so don't really control who they are in contact with.

More and more, if they look sick... I stay away from them. I get sick every single freaking time they are. They leave on Sunday... I am dying on Tuesday or Wednesday. I was totally 'anti-touching me' before my surgery because they were sick and I was afraid that I was going to get it. I managed not to get it... but the following weekend? They left on Sunday and I was dying on Wednesday AND trying to recover from surgery. It has been a horrible week this week.

Summary, if they look sick, I need to work on keeping them away from me so I can function at my job.

Surgery was primarily to remove potentially cancerous lumps for those you might wonder/worry. I learned today that I am cancer free. Now I just need to recover from surgery and monster cold.

Posted by: Billie_R | January 9, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Congrats on the cancer-free results, Billie_R!

So far this year the kids have been healthy (knock on wood!). But I came down with a cold over the New Year holiday, and still have a cough hanging on. Since I was scheduled to work while everyone else took their vacations, staying home wasn't an option. I've been keeping to my cubicle, drinking lots of hot tea to soothe my throat, and will need to replace my nearly-empty tissue box very soon. I'm borderline obsessive about handwashing anyway, so that hasn't changed.

DH decides when the boys are too sick to go to school, because he's there and I'm already on the way to work when they get up. Generally the standard is: are they *acting* sick? Don't want to get up, asking to stay home, noticible fever, "worshipping the porcelain goddess". They *like* school, and the rule at our house is that if you stay home because you're sick, you stay in bed - no screens of any kind, just books for entertainment, so malingering (if it happens at all) gets very boring very fast.

Posted by: SueMc | January 9, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Be careful in judging "sick' kids. Both of mine have nasty environmental allergies (pollen, dander, mold) which cause the inevitable flow of gunk from their noses, eyes,coughing up lungs and lethargy. They are not contagious just gross. This signals a need for change in their dose of allergy medication which will take a day or two to take effect. I do not punish them for having over active immune systems and we go out and about at such times if they are willing.

Vomit, diarrhea and non-teething related fevers keep us in quarantine until the plague has truly passed. I too live in fear of the intestinal virus. Mine tend to let me know that they have one any where from 1-3 in the morning! I hate stripping beds at that time and washing down upset sick kids.

Posted by: mmcgowen | January 9, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

mmcgowen, I have the same problem with stomach bugs...they usually hit in the wee hours of the morning and result in messy beds, kids, and floors! And of course my husband is snoring away while I'm the one throwing stinky sheets in the washer, wiping down the kids, and toweling the mess off the floor, the whole time living in fear that I'll wake up with the bug and spend the whole day doing the same thing while the kids are trashing the house once they feel better!

There's a running joke in my family as to why kids always seem to get sick at 2 in the's the only time they ever slow down enough for the bugs to catch up with them!

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | January 10, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I'm at home suffering from the flu brought home by, you guessed it, one of my little darlings. One of my boys picked it up during the winter break, so it wasn't transmitted from school. So, he came in contact with someone sick, probably indirectly, and we all got sick.

That much having been said, exactly how long should one keep a sick child home? My general experience is that it takes around two weeks for a cold to go away. Ours came down with a fever during preschool and we picked him up. We started him on antibiotics (ear infection) and picked up a nebulizer to assist with the respiratory infection. He stayed home for a couple of days and, upon improving, went back to school.

His twin brother caught the same cold shortly thereafter and we kept him out of preschool for the week. Mainly a timing issue.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | January 13, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

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