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Sick of Enforcing Your Sick Policy?

It has never been easy to enforce sick policies in childcare. There will always be a family who drops off a sick child after giving them Tylenol, or insists that the episode of vomiting was food poisoning and not a virus.

During the pandemic however, it has become essential for providers to enforce strict sick policies in order to keep everyone safe. Following the local health dept guidelines is commonplace for many programs, and increased protocols for keeping children home like negative covid tests and drs notes, have put many educators in the uncomfortable role of turning children away, or forcing parents to keep them home. Although everyone may understand the necessity of the policy, in practice, it can be frustrating for all involved.

How can early childhood educators make policies clear to families and bring them on board in keeping the health of the community top of mind? Here are a few tips:

Communication, communication, communication. Research shows that what most parents want from their childcare providers is more communication. Even if you think that you communicate a lot, they  will always want more. Over communication creates a connection to you and the program and makes families more  likely to trust you during the more difficult conversations. Communication also creates a feeling of safety and community, making families more willing to work together on enforcing your policies and keeping the community safe.

Information. Giving families information about state and local regulations and how you are following them gives them confidence in your policies and lets them know that you are taking the safety of their children seriously. Share guidance such as this update from the CDC so that families are aware of what the safety recommendations are and the reasons behind them.

Prevention.  Prevention goes a long way to inspire confidence. As we enter the cold and flu season, children are much more likely to get a runny nose or cough which may require them to stay home. Let families know that the measures that you have in place to reduce the spread of illness. Things like spending more time outside, handwashing, sanitizing etc not only prevent the spread of serious illness like covid, but will also prevent the spread of a cold that could keep a child home.

Clear policies and boundaries. As we move into winter, it may be a good idea to send families a reminder about your current policies so that they are clear about what to expect. Enforce these policies universally. It can be annoying for a family to keep a child home for 3 days with a runny nose, only to return to school to see a child with a runny nose in the classroom. Make sure that everyone understands your exclusion policy and use it without exception.

Empathy.  This pandemic has been long and hard for everyone. Parents have been frustrated by the challenges of working that the pandemic has presented. Having empathy for their point of view while holding your ground on your necessary policies will create a more productive partnership with families.

As the pandemic continues, so do its challenges for educators and families. The more that we continue to communicate and create partnerships and communities, the easier it will be for all of us to weather this storm.


Wonderschool is a network of quality in-home early childhood programs. Our mission is to ensure that every child has access to a home away from home that helps them realize their full potential. We work with experienced educators and child care providers to help them start their own child care or preschool out of their homes, whether they live in apartments, condos, or homes that they rent or own.