by: Michael Kabel

Sooner or later, every child takes a sick day. In fact, American school children take more than 350,000 sick days each year.

For parents, sick days are sometimes the occasion for massive shifts in theirs and the family's daily routine. Many parents simply cannot afford to miss work for their children. Others find themselves torn between the obligations of career and family life. Yet studies show that children with parents who can stay with them on sick days are more likely to excel in school.

Experts recommend avoiding such struggle and smoothing things out for yourself and your child alike by planning ahead. The best plans will incorporate contingencies and allow for a variety of events, granting you better flexibility to juggle your own responsibilities with the needs of your child.

Determining if a sick day is necessary

Parents can best determine if the child is sick enough to warrant a sick day by considering the following three criteria:

- Does the child have a fever? Fevers are actually a sign of illness and not a symptom themselves. Nevertheless, children with a fever of more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit should be taken to a doctor at the earliest opportunity. Schools often request that children with such fevers not attend classes until after the fever breaks. 
- What are the main symptoms? A "froggy" or scratchy throat is usually the first sign of a bout with the common cold or flu virus. Aches and pains, fatigue, and runny noses are also telltale signs an infection is just settling into the child"s body. A day of rest and recuperation may prevent any further or worsening infection. 
- How many sick days are still allowed? Children have a prescribed amount of sick days per semester, as normally determined by your local school board. If the child is running out of days but only has a runny nose, a sick day may not be worth the upheaval.

Sick time is an opportunity for learning

A day without school doesn't have to be a day without learning. Encouraging the child to read a book, watch educational programs (instead of cartoons or video games) or do research on the Internet are all ways to make sick time productive and worthwhile. If nothing else, the child can get caught up on their homework or even read ahead in their textbooks.

Working out the missing day of work

Your company may have allocated sick days you can take either for yourself or for your family members. Alternately, you can look into pursuing flex-time hours that allow you to make up the time missed. Your company might also allow you to work from home that day, provided you have complete phone and email access from your home office.

Another means of spending time with the child is to trade the day off with your partner. Both of you work half a day, while the other spends time with the child.

If all else fails, there are sometimes sick child day care centers attached to children's hospitals or normal day care locations. Health officials recommend not bringing seriously ill children to these centers, however. And leaving the child with a relative or friend, if only for an hour or two, is also always a possible alternative.