Is Your Child’s Day Care Facility Prepared to Fight Off the Flu?

Between classroom hygiene and sick day policies, here’s what you should look out for
Photograph courtesy of IStock

Let’s face it: Toddlers aren’t known for their hygiene. They’re not discriminating about what goes in their mouths (dirty fingers and money don’t phase them), and they aren’t big on doing anything for 20 seconds straight, let alone thoroughly scrubbing their hands. 

Unfortunately for parents, when it’s time to start day care or nursery school, these habits translate into sharing a lot of germs. “The first year your child is in day care or preschool, they’re going to be sick most of the year,” says Dr. Tanya Altmann, a pediatrician in Calabasas, California, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Even typically healthy kids can expect to catch eight to 12 illnesses every year. “They might come home every two to three weeks with something.”

Why are little kids so susceptible to illness? Aside from subpar hygiene, their immune systems aren’t especially hardy. That means the new germs they’ll inevitably encounter at day care (there are 200 different cold viruses alone) can make them sick faster than they can recite their ABCs. “As kids get older,” Altmann says, “they typically end up becoming more resilient to a variety of common organisms.”

It’s impossible to fully prevent your child from getting sick, but you can cut the risk with frequent hand washing, regular laundering of anything that goes to school (like a stuffed animal), and exercising common-sense caution. If your kid’s illness is contagious — think fever, phlegmy cough, or open rash — keep them home until symptoms let up.  

And while you may be sick of picking up slimy tissues, there’s an upside to your kid getting sick: It’s helping build immunity-boosting antibodies, which means fewer colds next year — hopefully.  

What to ask to determine whether a day care facility’s hygiene is sufficient

How often do you clean your classroom? 

The cleaner a day care, the fewer germs there are floating around. To that end, it’s important for day cares to clean, sanitize, and disinfect classrooms on a regular schedule. (Cleaning connotes washing with soap and water, while sanitizing reduces germs and disinfecting destroys them.) According to standards set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, certain areas, like food-prep surfaces and changing tables, must be sanitized after every use, while others, like door handles, need daily disinfecting. Make sure your facility follows protocol, and also ask how communal surfaces and objects like toys are cleaned. Certain methods may not be strong enough to kill pathogens. 

What steps are faculty taking to avoid spreading illnesses?

Hand washing is key for preventing the spread of germs, so make sure providers scrub well — and often. Use common sense: If a place looks unkempt or something doesn’t seem kosher (say, providers don’t use gloves when changing diapers), don’t expect fastidiousness when it comes to promoting good health. 

What is your policy regarding sick kids?

A quality facility will have guidelines outlining when to keep your child home, like when they have a fever, diarrhea, or pink eye. Policies vary per day care, but common practices include requiring kids to be fever-free for 24 hours before returning to school. Most importantly, make sure your day care mandates up-to-date vaccinations for all attendees.