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A Is for Attendance: Missing School Can Impact Children’s Future Health

The occasional day spent home from school due to a cold or other illness is to be expected. You might be surprised, though, at how quickly missed school days can add up. In fact, according to a recent report in the journal Pediatrics, an estimated 13 percent of all U.S. children miss 15 or more school days each year.

When kids chronically miss this much school starting as early as preschool and kindergarten, they miss out on more than learning. Frequent absenteeism puts them at risk for poor grades, dropping out of school, and unhealthy behaviors as teens and young adults—such as smoking and not exercising—that could put their health on the line down the road.

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to make sure your child shows up to school as often as possible.

Help them stay well. Practicing good hand hygiene is one of the most important things your kids can do to avoid getting sick. Encourage kids to wash their hands with soap and water throughout the day, including before eating, after using the toilet, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose. If soap and water aren’t available, they can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to help kill germs. In addition, make sure that your child is up to date on all his or her vaccinations, including a yearly flu shot.

Only keep your child home when necessary. Missing just two days per month can add up to being chronically absent. Make sure your child stays home only when he or she needs to. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, acceptable reasons for missing school include a temperature higher than 101 degrees, vomiting, diarrhea, a bad cough, or a toothache. If your child frequently complains of a stomachache or headache, talk with your pediatrician. These could be signs of anxiety rather than a physical illness.

Encourage good sleep habits. Kids who don’t get enough sleep tend to miss more school and get lower grades. Try to maintain a regular pre-bed routine and bedtime, encourage kids to be physically active during the day, and shut down all screens at least an hour before bed.

Make a backup plan. Create a backup plan to make sure your child gets to school even when things don’t go as planned (such as missing the bus). For example, ask a family member, neighbor, or another responsible adult take your child to school when needed.

Avoid scheduling conflicts. If you need to take your child out of school for an appointment, have him or her return to school for the remainder of the day. Only schedule vacations during official school breaks.

Work with your pediatrician. If your child has a chronic medical condition such as asthma, allergies, or seizures that causes him or her to frequently miss school, work with your pediatrician or other providers to better manage symptoms. It can also be helpful to work closely with the school nurse to make sure your child receives needed care during the school day.

Helping your kids show up to school day after day will positively impact their education—and so much more.

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.