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Daycare and Sickness - An Unfortunate Dynamic Duo

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

As someone who worked in childcare centers for years, I expected the tsunami of sickness that we ultimately received as a family with two children in daycare at the same time. What I didn’t expect was a double-header back-to-back illnesses, more days missed than attended in a month, and a global pandemic to enter the arena and cause complete havoc on the whole approach to illness in childcare.

The day our daughter Harper was born (now 6.5), our son Finn who was 18 months old (now 8), had a 101.5 fever and a double ear infection. Less than a month later, Harper had pink eye in both eyes and the illness adventure was on its way in full force. Sharing is caring, except when it comes to germs. But that doesn’t stop the breeding ground that exists when a bunch of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers hang out all day. Fast forward two years, Harper scored over 12 ear infections in her medical chart and earned herself a set of tubes.

This is not surprising, research tells us that children in group childcare settings are exposed to a lot of germs and may experience up to 12 respiratory illnesses in their first year. (1) Furthermore, babies who attend large-group child-care centers before they are 2 ½ years of age get more respiratory and ear infections than those cared for at home. This research goes on to show that babies who attend large-group child-care centers before they are 2 ½ years old are less likely to come down with these ailments once they start elementary school. (2)

The bottom line? Daycare is ripe for illness, but children who attend before the age of 2 ½ benefit from exposure to illness by building their immune response, resulting in fewer sick days in elementary school. The long-term benefits of immunity from attending daycare at a young age are impossible to see as “worth it” as a parent when your infant or toddler is missing more days of school each month than they are attending, you visit the doctor weekly and your child is always on a cocktail of medications. This also means that you are likely paying for days that your child isn’t attending AND you get the bonus of figuring out childcare for your sick kiddo and/or navigating “working” from home while parenting. FUN!

First, let me commiserate with all parents of children younger than 2 ½ attending large group childcare centers. COLD AND FLU SEASON SUCKS! BUT, YOU ARE DOING GREAT, SWEETIE. Cold and flu season isn’t exactly anyone’s favorite, but when you have a young child in group daycare it can feel like you are playing "Sickness Bingo", checking off each illness as you get them in your family. It can feel like a losing game in the short term but has winning long-term benefits that can impact learning in primary school. And, we know that the frequency and impact of illness can be reduced in group daycare centers with adherence to solid sick policies.

So what makes a solid sick policy in group daycare? Here are the most important policies/approaches that should be written and shared with families:

  • Illness and Exclusion Criteria - things like what constitutes an illness, when children are required to be sent home or stay home from daycare, how long children will be excluded for specific symptoms or illnesses, what is required to return after illness, and how the daycare will handle contagious diseases.

  • Illness Communication - how the daycare will communicate about illnesses and how families should notify the daycare if their child is ill.

  • Caring for Sick Children - how sick children will be cared for and isolated from other children until they can be picked up by their parents when medications will be administered, and how staff are trained in caring for sick children

  • Preventing Child Illness - the regular and routine hygiene practices such as handwashing, sanitization of toys and surfaces, and immunization policies

These are the basics - there is nuance within each of these considerations so it’s important to ask several questions and consider the implications of each of the daycare’s policies for your child and your family. Finally, it's crucial to understand how these policies are reinforced and ask about any challenges in the past with the policies. Review their Handbook, ask clarifying questions using ProEarly’s Comprehensive Interview Guide, schedule a consult call with our team to review your daycare’s policies, and as always, wash your hands.

Are you in the game of Illness Bingo right now? Share your own experiences or tips in the comments.

Have a Healthy Week!




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