What if my child has symptoms? 5 questions about COVID-19 and school, answered

Including when to call your GP, and when it’s usually okay to send children to school.

AS SCHOOLS PREPARE to reopen, copybooks are being labelled and bags are being packed, there’s one more thing that parents need to tick off their ‘to-do’ list this year: knowing what to do about symptoms of colds, flus and COVID-19. 

While children who contract coronavirus generally experience mild symptoms, or may not show any symptoms at all, it’s important for parents to be aware of the signs of COVID-19 – and to know what to do if their child is unwell.

If your child is returning to the classroom, here’s everything you need to know about managing any symptoms they might develop, as advised by the HSE. 

1. How much COVID-19 information should I share with my child? 

While children don’t need to know the latest headlines surrounding coronavirus or tune into the six o’clock news, they do need to know about hand hygiene, social distancing and how to protect themselves from the virus. You should share this information in a way that’s appropriate for your child’s age and ability to understand.

Children and babies can get COVID-19, although it’s usually less serious in children than adults. This comic may help explain what coronavirus is to your child and why they have to take steps to avoid infection.

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As they would outside of school, encourage your child to wash their hands regularly and properly, and to use hand sanitiser when hand washing facilities are not available. Ensure that they know to wash their hands before and after eating, after coughing and sneezing and after using the toilet. This video explains how to teach your child to wash their hands effectively.

Make sure your child follows good hygiene practices when coughing or sneezing by doing so into their elbow or into a tissue, and by putting any used tissues into a bin.

Although they may want to share with their friends, explain to your child why they can’t share stationary, bottles, toys, food or other items during COVID-19. 

It’s a good idea for parents to know what measures are in place in their child’s childcare facility or school before they return and, if they’re old enough, talk them through in advance so they know what the new rules are. It’s also helpful to make sure that your child is familiar with new words that may be used in school, like ‘pods’ and ‘bubbles’, and understands what they mean.

Find out more about protecting your child from coronavirus here.

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2. What do I do if my child starts showing COVID-19 symptoms?

If your child shows any common symptoms of coronavirus, do not send them to school or childcare. Isolate your child, phone your GP and check the guidance provided on the HSE website if they have:

  • A temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more
  • Any other common symptoms of coronavirus i.e. a new cough, loss or changed sense of taste or smell, or shortness of breath
  • Been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus
  • Been living with someone who is unwell and may have coronavirus

Read more about what to do if your child has COVID-19 symptoms here.

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3. What steps do I take if my child is referred for a coronavirus test?

If your child is referred for a coronavirus test, follow the advice on keeping your child at home while you wait for the test and test result. Your child may find going to a test centre a strange experience, and maybe a bit scary.

These visual guides may help break it down for them:

4. My child has a runny nose. Should I send them to school?

Most of the time, you don’t need to phone your GP or keep your child at home if a runny nose or sneezing are their only symptoms. On their own, a runny nose or sneezing are more likely to be symptoms of a cold or other viral infection. 

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It’s usually okay to send your child to school or childcare if:

  • They only have nasal symptoms, such as a runny nose or a sneeze
  • They do not have a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more (as long as their temperature has not been lowered by taking any form of paracetamol or ibuprofen)
  • They do not have a cough
  • They have not been in close contact with anyone who has coronavirus
  • They do not live with anyone who is unwell and may have coronavirus
  • You have been told by a GP that your child’s illness is caused by something else, and that it is not coronavirus
  • They have received a negative coronavirus test result and have not had symptoms for 48 hours

Read more about coughs, colds and other viral infections in children here. This year, all children aged two to 12 years will be offered the children’s nasal flu vaccine.

5. How do I know when to seek medical help?

Phone your GP if your child has any of the common symptoms of coronavirus (see above), been in close contact with someone who has tested positive or is living with someone who is unwell and may have it.

It’s rare for coronavirus to cause severe illness in children, but it can happen. A very small number of children who have coronavirus have needed hospital treatment for paediatric inflammatory multi-system syndrome (PIMS), which is a life-threatening disorder caused by an unusual response to an infection by your body’s immune system. It’s similar to Kawasaki disease or toxic shock syndrome and very rare. It’s not yet known if there’s a link between PIMS and COVID-19.

Do not put off getting medical help if your child is unwell. If they become very unwell quickly, the cause could be any number of reasons, including meningitis and septicaemia. Read about symptoms in babies and children that need urgent medical help here

We all have a part to play in stopping the spread of coronavirus. Find guidelines on caring for yourself and your children during COVID-19 here. For updated factual information and advice about coronavirus, visit

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