The Etiquette of Illness – 3 Rules

sick child and mother

As parents, we’ve all been in the situation when someone brings their obviously sick child to a play date or to school. These overly laid back or inconsiderate parents saunter in with a toddler whose nose is profusely running and a barky cough, with little or no explanation. You are often left to panic or seethe.

It doesn’t help when parents try to play off their child’s illness as “allergies”. If you’re 100% sure that little Timmy is allergic to pollen in December then fine, but I’m not sure why he has an ear infection too.

While the little mobile germ-dispensing toddler is touching and licking every toy in sight, you are left to contemplate how to elegantly escape this hot zone with your child.

If you have self-diagnosed germaphobia like I do, then welcome to a world of high anxiety. I used to be more relaxed before I had children but something about parenthood (especially first time parents) makes you want to sanitize everything in sight. If it can’t be wiped down, boiled or laundered, get it away from me and my baby. How did we all survive the 80’s when no one carried around hand sanitizer?! Children today are doused with alcohol gel the moment they touch any public object.

I know there are two schools of thought about germs and immunity. Perhaps there should literally be two schools for kids. One school would be for the very relaxed hippy parents that believe being exposed to viruses builds immunity. The kids could eat dirt, not sanitize their hands every five minutes and cough all over each other in a virtual viral utopia.

The second school would be a purified bubble with ozonated air and non-toxic toys. If you even think about delivering a sick child, you’re out. The neurotic tribe has spoken.

Since this is unrealistic, what is the rule? What is the etiquette of illness?

  1. Don’t Lie You know your tot just had a cold and is still getting over it. That runny nose is not from allergies. I know you don’t want to miss the play date with the other moms but do you really want everyone talking about you and your selfishness when you leave? Because we will.


  1. Confess We know all about those red cheeks and sneezes, and it’s not from teething. You’re not fooling anybody. Be honest with your host or guests beforehand. They’ll appreciate it and you’ll look super considerate. If the group is laid back, they’ll tell you to come anyway. Know your audience. Get a reputation for being honest about illness. The other moms will be honest with you if you show them you’re thoughtful and cautious about keeping your child from getting sick. Be the hippy or the neurotic and own it. It will make it easier to find your mommy tribe.


  1. Be Considerate Sure you might have an appointment, meeting or a job that you really can’t miss but sending your ill or not fully recovered child to school is so not fair. I know what you’re thinking, “The other moms do it”. Yes, and it’s not cool, especially when most moms have a newborn at home. Your toddler may not have a fever but that messy runny nose is spreading his cold. Give it an extra day if you can. We’re all in this together and if you’re considerate, moms will notice. Your “illness etiquette” will be appreciated and other mothers will hopefully return the favor.

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