How To Convince Parents Not to Bring Their Sick Kids
April 5, 2016 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm a music teacher and I also have severe upper respiratory allergies. I try everything I can to work on them however, I feel some parents are not holding their end of the bargain. They tend to bring their seemingly healthy child into a lesson when they're actually sick. I keep getting ill as a result and as a professional singer, I can't afford to get sick. I want to make a notice detailing what is sick before their child runs into a lesson. How should I address this issue?

I make sure I dont expose my students to any disease I have while its happening so, I was thinking of applying the same rules to them. The ideas I had about this notice are symptoms checklist such as, a runny nose, wet cough, "just getting over a cold", more sneezing than usual, and fatigue. I feel douchey putting this list up but I don't know what to do and I feel like I took every precaution not to get sick. So, how can I gently notify parents that you're seemingly healthy child is still not well enough to take a lesson? Feel free to add to the checklist, too.
posted by InterestedInKnowing to Human Relations (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You should add fever to your checklist, and maybe sore throat.

I'm not a parent, but I think this new policy would be better received if you (a) frame this in terms of giving the kid time to recuperate, not in terms of "please don't give me your germs!" and (b) allow 2-3 free last-minute cancellations for illness.

I wish more places would have this policy. Why my coworkers insist on coming to work with (literally) pneumonia despite the three weeks of paid sick leave we get every year is beyond me.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:53 AM on April 5, 2016 [12 favorites]

Some few parents will actually pay attention to a list, but let's face it -- most parents know damn well that their kid is sick and just don't care about other people getting "just a cold". Reminding them that you are A) a professional singer, and B) a teacher of many other kids might help. Free cancellations would definitely help. Even though it sucks for you, there's definitely an aspect of "My kid's going to get what I paid for" in the decision.
posted by Etrigan at 7:56 AM on April 5, 2016 [13 favorites]

I don't think there is anything you can do about this. Children are disease vectors, interacting with them is a risk.

"September epidemics of asthma hospitalizations in Canada have a precise relationship to school return after the summer vacation. It may be speculated that school-age children transmit the agents responsible for the epidemic to adults. Measures to improve asthma control and reduce transmission of infections should be directed at children with asthma before school return." (The September epidemic of asthma hospitalization: School children as disease vectors)

If you've gotten parents to not bring obviously sick children in, that's probably the best you can do. And better than most manage,
posted by Across the pale parabola of joy at 7:57 AM on April 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

You need to make cancellations free AND discuss why the lesson won't be as beneficial to the child as the free makeup lesson they'll get later. Talk about their voice, energy, attention, etc. This will be more effective than making it about you.
posted by metasarah at 7:59 AM on April 5, 2016 [25 favorites]

I think "sick" is relative. They have phases where they run around with runny noses for half a year and you just can't keep them home that long, so runny noses become the new normal. So I personally would welcome this very specific list of yours. But yes, you should add some leniency to your last minute cancellation policy.

I would say that this policy is supposed to prevent the children from infecting each other, and that you will end a lesson
with a child that has the following symptoms. Then be true to your word and have the kid sit in your waiting room while you call the parent to come pick her up.
Yes, it is harsh and it will bug some people. But either this is your policy, or it isn't. Kids get sick all the time. It's a nuisance and parents try to work with it as much as possible. They aren't going to change their ways without consequences.
posted by Omnomnom at 8:08 AM on April 5, 2016 [10 favorites]

I just had a baby start day care and since we are all now sick ALL the time I've done a tiny bit of research and it says that the kids are most contagious before they look sick, so I feel like we get/give colds before there is any awareness anyone is sick.

I agree with free cancellation as well- these things seem to just happen :-(
posted by catspajammies at 8:09 AM on April 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

A quick google reinforced my feeling that singing while sick can damage your vocal cords. This, to me, is enough reason for kids not to be made to sing while they are ill.

Tell the parents that there have been a lot of kids showing up whilst unwell recently, and that you want to remind them that this could cause damage to the child's voice. Tell them that from now on, you will send any child home in this condition for their own safety.
posted by greenish at 8:10 AM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would define what you consider a fever because you will get parents who will insist that a temperature of 102 is not a fever, as we did at work last week.
posted by corey flood at 8:19 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

The only way to avoid contact with viruses carried by children is by avoiding contact with children. Children (and adults) often carry viruses that don't make them sick at all, but might make you sick. And many viral infections are contagious for several days before symptoms appear and after they disappear.
posted by headnsouth at 8:20 AM on April 5, 2016 [22 favorites]

Get a nice collection of masks like the ones hospitals provide, and have kids wear them if they show any symptoms whatsoever. Every time they sniffle, make them go blow their noses and then wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap. When the parents come to pick the kid up and both you and he are wearing masks, explain that you really can't afford to keep missing work when you catch a cold, but that for today you hope you may have been able to minimize the risks...

Bonus: These measures should actually make you a little less likely to get sick.
posted by cogitron at 8:30 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Fever of 100 degrees is the cutoff for daycare/school, and must be under 100 for 24 hours before returning. In my experience, symptoms happen well before then and I'd consider a lower cutoff, maybe 99.5 or 99. Also, 24 hours after last vomiting episode - it'll only take once for you to value that policy. The two things on your list that are tricky are runny nose and fatigue - my 8 year old has had months long 'under the weather' fatigue and runny nose spells, one minor virus after another combined with growth spurts. Will you be able to handle losing students for possibly months at a time? Make sure your policies are not too punishing on this front. Presumably the parents want their children actually taking lessons, so be prepared to lose them to teachers who will allow the typical level of child malaise. You're not being unreasonable (at all! it's gross!) but you also may not be able to accommodate some kids.
posted by pekala at 8:37 AM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

You may want to look at school or daycare sick policies--they do not want a class full of ill children and are very specific. They usually say the child should be kept home for 24 hours after fever/acute symptoms abate without medication. As a parent though, "no runny nose" would give me pause, as I know kids with allergies that would not be able to do anything 6-8 months of the year (Just this week we've been playing the "cold or allergies" game at our house). I also agree with the folks upthread who said that most transmission of cold viruses happens before symptoms and very early in the progression of the cold. You seem concerned about the long tail, at which point they're not likely to be contagious.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:41 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

What ages are you talking about? That really matters.

If you are talking little ones, I have a toddler in daycare. Nthing - you would not have seen her at all since October if it was no runny nose! Runny nose also can mean teething, not a cold. Also, coughs can linger 3-4 weeks after an illness and aren't necessarily contagious (as per our pediatrician). But I'd keep her home with a fever (probably cut off around 99-100), sore throat, vomiting, etc. Also you should add pink eye to your list. That's a gross one! No class till 24 hours after the start of meds.

But if you're talking elementary aged kids they shouldn't be sick as much as toddlers, for sure, and I think you can have stronger rules IF you have a generous make up policy. If you had a very strong cancellation policy or charged for missed classes but required kids to stay home I'd likely chose elsewhere just as a practical matter.

This doesn't exactly address your question, but you could start asking everyone to wash their hands, or use hand sanitizer, as they come in. Also, make sure you have tissues and a trash can handy, try disinfecting your doorknobs and other touchable surfaces often, and do your best to reduce your own infection transmission: washing hands before eating, don't touch your face, don't wear street clothes on your bed, etc.

(I hear you. The constant illnesses are AWFUL.)
posted by john_snow at 8:50 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

I take music lessons (I am an adult) and my teacher, who performs regularly, lets me cancel without having to pay for the lesson if I'm sick. I don't abuse this—I pay for the lessons I cancel for other reasons—and I assume his other clients don't either.

I agree with the sign that posts the 24-hour rule after fever of 100 or above, or vomiting, sore throat, pinkeye, or ear infection. I also agree that posting something about runny nose or cough would cause a lot of families to drop the lessons, because as stated above, benign runny noses and coughs can linger for months.

I'd also gently suggest that even these precautions aren't going to mean that you'll get sick less often. Winters are brutal for parents and teachers, you have my sympathies.
posted by pipti at 9:20 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a parent of a toddler, the only recommendations that make sense are no a) fever and b) vomiting/diarrhea for 24 hrs med free, which are the ones enforced at daycare. It's a little bit better for elementary school aged kids, but not dramatically so.

Children (and adults for that matter) are already contagious before they exhibit symptoms, post-illness coughing can last for weeks, and runny noses are a given September to May. If a kid is obviously ill, then it was obvious to the parent too and a list isn't going to help. Free cancellations might, I bet that's a big reason parents force the issue, but it might also backfire in other ways in terms of people cancelling last minute with a handy excuse.

It sucks, I'm sorry. Try practicing as strict of a hand washing regime as possible, at all times. You really won't know what you're going to catch and when, kids are germ factories 24/7.
posted by lydhre at 9:20 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would put up a sign / email that says you reserve the right to waive the usual cancellation fee if someone cancels because a child is sick. I can see charging someone if they cancel for poor planning or whatever, but not if they're sick. My doctor found that waiving the fee when people are sick made people more willing to comply with the sick policy. Also, if they come to the office with a sick kid, sibling or sick self, they are sent home.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:34 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Hello, [org name/band name, etc] asks parents to follow the sick guidelines for the area public school system. If your child meets criteria to stay home from school, then we would ask that you refrain from bringing your child to [event name]. The sick guidelines are posted here [link to public school district site sick guidelines or print out beneath a posted sign]."

In my opinion, this is the only reasonable and the best way to make this request. You're using the same guidelines as an established entity that many parents will already be in contact with and/or have a general understanding of. These guidelines are also likely to be very similar to area daycares.
posted by zizzle at 9:47 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Offer free makeups. I am definitely your target audience, and I have a depression era influenced "if we paid for it we use it come hell or high water."
posted by corb at 9:50 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

My kids have a runny nose about 80% of the time. It gets so I don't even notice it until they get "actually" sick (i.e., vomiting, fever, or diarrhea). I would never take a kid with any of those to a music lesson, but I would definitely have to find a new music teacher if our had a policy that excluded runny noses.

Religious use of hand sanitizer yourself (before and after every lesson) and wiping down your teaching space with sanitizer will help a lot with this.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:54 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

As a parent I suspect that the issue is that they paid for the lesson and they don't want to waste it. If you are very forgiving about make ups with no charge, this issue might go away.
posted by k8t at 10:04 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

My son is in our school district's developmental preschool, and last year he was in a class with a child who was extremely medically fragile. Because this child had very little ability to fight off regular illnesses and because she would frequently end up hospitalized from illnesses that would be incredibly mild in anyone else, my son's classroom adopted some extra policies. Bear in mind this is for 3-5 year olds.

Parents were asked to keep their children home if they had a fever of 100 degrees or higher, vomiting, diarrhea, or green nasal discharge or sputum from coughing. We were also asked to "use our judgment thoughtfully" if our children had thick nasal discharge, regardless of color. Kids had to be free of those symptoms for 24 hours before they could come back to school.

In addition to that, the class adopted a bunch of new handwashing practices, which they adhered to very strictly. Upon getting to school, the entire class went to the bathroom and washed their hands with hot water and soap, about midway up their forearms. They repeated this after snack time, after going to pull-out resources like PT or speech therapy, and before they went home. Every time they switched stations (like from the blocks to the sensory table) they would use hand sanitizer and one of the adults would wipe down the previous station with bleach wipes. There were boxes of Kleenex EVERYWHERE, and every time a kid sneezed, coughed, or blew her nose, they had to use hand sanitizer. It was pretty arduous, and I had to start lotioning my poor kid's hands three times a day, but it really did make a difference in the spread of respiratory illnesses, and the vulnerable child only had one extended hospitalization that year.

I'm also a singer, and I get where you're coming from. Singing produces so many aerosolized particles that to a large extent, there's only so much you can do. But if you have your students wash their hands with soap and hot water as soon as they get to your studio and use hand sanitizer every time they cough or sneeze, and if YOU are diligent about sanitizer, about washing your own hands, and about wiping down anything the kids may have touched, you can probably make a pretty big dent in the problem.

(Also, quit shaking hands. With anyone. I bump elbows instead -- I just say "I'm a singer and it's flu season, so I'mma bump your elbow instead of shaking your hand." People frequently think it's a little weird, but nobody's ever been seriously put off by it so far.)
posted by KathrynT at 10:20 AM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would also make it clear that parents get one warning about bringing a sick child, and if they do it a second time you will fire them.

Of course you will have to use your judgment because sometimes kids won't seem sick and it'll be an accident and blah blah blah, but if you've got a few parents who are clearly and deliberately ignoring your sick policy, fire them. You don't HAVE to fire families that you think are acting in good faith, but having a firing policy gives you the OPTION to fire families who are not.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:25 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

They tend to bring their seemingly healthy child into a lesson when they're actually sick.

Do you have people pay ahead of time, like at the beginning of the term/month, or as they go? If the former, you could enact a policy where they have X amount of time to reschedule the appointment without any additional fees. That way people with the " we paid for it, we must use it!" mentality won't be tempted to push as much. Making this policy very blatant and explicitly tied to student performance (ill students don't get much out of a lesson) may also help encourage the behavior you want (so taking an ill kid now seems like a waste of money). My sister's violin teacher did this, and I think she had built in "make-up classes" into her schedule so it was a smooth process. She switched to working from home (obviously not always an option) rather than renting studio space so she could waive cancelation fees and reschedule without incurring additional costs for herself.

Alao, do you have contact with someone at the local schools (involved parent or staff)? If they could give you a heads up when a bug is going around, you could then send out reminders on your rescheduling policy for sick students. Include symptoms for the most recent bug in the reminder. This might help catch the most egregious cases, but I think you're still going to get a lot of exposure even if all parents do their absolute best: If your lessons are primarily in the evening on school days, the parents may not have really had a lot of time with the kids at that point, so "apparently healthy" will really just seem healthy. I remember that I wound up at dance class ill a couple times because I didn't even really feel symptomatic until halfway through class (ugh...barre work was not fun with the flu, but pirouettes were usually what made me go "oh boy, I may be sick"). Even if I had been a bit off at home, my mom had two other kids with multiple activities and dinner to coordinate, so mild symptoms could slip by her.
posted by ghost phoneme at 10:27 AM on April 5, 2016

And yeah, following up on what ghost phoneme said -- you may not be able to catch all of these just because kids can get sick so fast. When I was 7, I went to an evening rehearsal for a local musical production on a school night feeling fine, and had to be taken to the emergency room two hours later because I had a fever of 105 (and, as it turned out, bilateral pneumonia). No sick policy on earth would have kept me from attending that rehearsal, because I had no symptoms when it started.
posted by KathrynT at 10:40 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, our daycare has a rule that you have to be fever free for 24 hours. I extend that to puking and diarrhea. But if I had to keep my kids home for a runny nose, fatigue, or feeling run down..... that would amount to me dropping the class by default at least in the winter. We'd literally have to cancel every single week from at least November to April.

I would have people do hand sanitizer upon entering, enforce covering when they sneeze, and sanitize after they leave, and be absolutely religious for your own hand washing. Those things will be more effective anyway, since as everyone has pointed out, kids are germy even when they don't seem sick.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:10 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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