Grades and Testing / Health and Wellness / School Enrollment / Ages 5-18

What Parents Need to Know About Absences

Sick days happen. But the best way to make sure your child is learning in school is to make sure they get to school in the first place.

Having a child home on a school day is tough for busy parents. Usually it means we have to call in sick, too, or scramble to find someone else to watch them. But the truth is that missing school is even worse for kids. Why? It’s simple: If kids aren’t in school, they probably aren’t learning.

Absences don’t usually get much attention, but research suggests they can be hugely damaging to a child’s success in school and beyond. One recent study, for example, found that students who were “chronically absent” in kindergarten and first grade were much less likely to read proficiently in third grade. By sixth grade, frequent absences are one of the most powerful warning signs that a student will drop out.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to missing school:

  • Absences are like a rip tide, quietly tugging kids back. Routine absences can create a vicious cycle in which students struggle to keep up, get frustrated, become isolated from their classmates, and lose interest in school—encouraging more absences. They can recover from one or two missed days over the course of a few months, but more frequent absences quickly take a toll.
  • It doesn’t take a lot of missed school to be considered “chronically absent.” We know what you’re thinking: There’s no way my kid is ‘chronically absent.’ He just missed a day here and there. Consider this, though: According to Attendance Works, “chronic absence” is defined as missing about 10 percent of the school year. For most students, that’s about 18 days, or only two days per month.
  • Missing school is missing school—no matter the reason. You might not guess this, but the impact of excused and unexcused absences is the same. A family reunion trip carries the same cost in lost learning as staying home a week with the flu. Add to this the costs of all the learning time lost in recent years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and missed days here and there really add up.

So how do you keep your child out of the absence riptide?

Start by making a habit of getting to school on time every day, beginning in kindergarten. Having a regular bedtime and morning routine, tracking absences at home, having a neighbor or family member who can get your child to school when you can’t, and only keeping your child home if she’s truly sick can all help. For more tips and practical strategies, check out the resources from Attendance Works.

Kids are going to miss a day here and there—just make sure that one doesn’t turn into another, and another. Treat every absence like a big deal. It can sometimes be a headache to get a grumpy or resistant kid to school, but it’s way easier than trying to get them back on track after they fall behind.

Get the Guide by email

You’ll get early access to our newest resources, timely tips on how to support your child, and more!

Sign Up