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The daycare dilemma

Can you ward off classroom colds?

Article Author: Julie Dubin

Article Date:

young preschool age child smiles at the camera while sitting at a table with classmates

The time has come for your family to venture into new territory: daycare. It’s a transition for you and your little one, but with support, you can all find comfort in the new environment.

A major worry for parents is how sick will their baby get.

“Even without daycare, you can expect 7-10 colds in the first year of life. Once your child is around other kids, it can be up to 15,” said Randolph “Randy” Thornton, MD, a pediatrician with Jacksonville Pediatrics and Wolfson Children’s Hospital. “A single cold can last 1-2 weeks, so that’s a lot of sniffling and coughing in a year.”

In general, respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses are common in daycare settings.

“We see RSV, COVID-19 and strep throat,” Dr. Thornton said. “Winter is big for cold and flu bugs and in summer, it’s hand, foot and mouth disease.”

What can parents do to try to minimize sick time? Make sure your chosen daycare has policies that kids with a fever, diarrhea or vomiting must stay home. Check out the facility to see if it's clean. Do employees always have to wash their hands? Did you notice a lot of hand sanitizer and sinks around?

You may want to check out the space from time to time.

“Keep an eye on the daycare and make sure they're changing the diapers. I see a lot of bad diaper rashes,” Dr. Thornton said. “Do they watch out for biting and hitting? Are they are keeping the kids safe? Drop by unannounced and see what's happening. Parents have good instincts.”

Serious sickness

If your baby is under 2 months old and has a fever (100.4 degrees rectally), it's an emergency and you should go straight to the nearest children’s Emergency Center, Dr. Thornton said. Otherwise, if your child is acting sick or if you’re worried, contact your pediatrician.

“A fever itself is safe up until a little past 105 degrees. A 2-year-old with a high fever who's acting fine doesn’t scare me as much as a 2-year-old with no fever who's acting listless,” Dr. Thornton said. “A fever triggers the release of antibodies to directly kill the germ. In this way, it actually helps, but it makes you feel awful.”

Saying bye-bye

Another big parental concern is separation anxiety, for both the child and the parent. Saying goodbye while your child’s screaming at the top of his or her lungs and reaching out for you is maybe more than you think your heart can handle.

“Separation anxiety starts about 7 or 8 months and peaks at 1½ to 2 years. By age 3, most kids are getting over it,” Dr. Thornton said. “The good news is that it’s a sign of excellent parenting if they get anxious when you leave. It means they’ve developed a strong bond with you.”

“Drop-off can be an ordeal. I tell parents to be very positive and say, ‘We’ll see you later,’ and then walk out. The child may be crying when you leave but they’re not having any long-term emotional troubles,” Dr. Thornton added. “They often calm down after a few minutes. Once they get used to the daycare staff they'll separate easily and know their parents will come back.”

If your child isn’t settling down at all, check with your pediatrician to see if there could be something else going on.

Social benefits

Daycare helps kids learn to relate with their peers.

“At age 2 and under, kids do parallel play. They don’t interact, but rather play around each other. By age 3 and above, they play with each other and learn social skills,” Dr. Thornton said. “Good daycare workers will oversee and teach kids good behaviors.”

If your child’s not in daycare, don’t fret. You can help teach social skills by scheduling playdates and group get-togethers, such as music classes.

Most kids (and parents!) do adapt to daycare. Sure, your little one may face a few more colds along the way, but Dr. Thornton said they’re building up their immunity by being exposed to germs early. That not only provides protection against illnesses down the road, but may also help prevent allergies from developing.

Though there isn’t anything you can do to boost your infant or toddler’s immune system before they hit the classroom, Dr. Thornton recommended following a healthy lifestyle with plenty of fresh air, exercise, play, nutritious eating, sleep and hand-washing.


Your child's doctor is the first line of defense against pink eye, ear infections, and all the other common daycare illnesses. To find a pediatrician for your little one, request an appointment online.

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