What do you do when you’re a working mom (as most moms in Israel are) and your child plays sick? As a full-time writer at Kars4Kids
, I'm often confronted with that all too common early morning decision: is my child really sick or is he faking?
It’s a fact of life: children get sick. Going to school means coming into contact with other children and lots and lots of germs. Exposure to illness and coming down with childhood illnesses is part of building up the immune system.
But sometimes children feel only vaguely unwell and beg to stay home from school, pleading real illness. More rarely, a child actually feigns illness to get out of going to school. Once you’ve ruled out fever, raw red throats, and other true signs of illness, as a parent, you’re confronted with the task of how to handle the situation. Especially since, if your kid stays home, you need to either stay home with him or find a babysitter, not an easy, last minute prospect.
First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that if a school-related issue is causing anxiety for your child, the discomfort is real. Your child feels unpleasant feelings and doesn’t know how to resolve her issues. Instead of accusing your child of deceiving you—faking sick to stay home from school—try to identify the cause of your child’s discomfort and work to find a way to resolve the issue.
Not Willful Deceit
For example, your child may be afraid of a classmate that is bullying her.
In such a case, it’s important to keep in mind that your child’s desire to stay home is a desire for self-preservation rather than an effort at willful deceit. You’ll want to involve the school so as to ensure your child’s safety from actual physical harm.
After working with the teacher or school administration, you should be able to assure your child there’s no more reason to fear the
classroom. You can outline what steps have been taken by the school and the bully’s parents to eliminate the problem.
In addressing your child’s issue, you address the root cause of her anxiety. You’re also teaching her that resolving an issue is possible and much better than avoidance tactics. She’ll feel good about going to school and will have learned an important life lesson, outside of the classroom, as well.
But bullying is only one example of an issue that might cause anxiety in your child and cause her to want to stay home from school. In order to establish the source of your child’s discomfort, you’ll want to ask her open-ended questions. For example, “What subjects do you like best?” and “What bothers you the most about school?”
In other words, open-ended questions are those that elicit more than a yes or no answer.
If the problem is related to school work or a particular subject, you can offer to review with your child or hire a tutor. If the problem is a social issue, you can practice social skills by acting out social scenarios with your child at home.
But more likely, the problem is not one you’re able to solve first thing in the morning, in time to pack your child off to school without both of you being late. You can, however, reassure your child that you will work on the problem together, after school and that if she doesn’t feel well, she can stay home in the late afternoon instead of playing outside. You can give her a kiss and a hug, look her in the eyes and tell her that whenever she feels bad in school, to think of you and remember you love her.
You might also want to take a look at your child’s schedule to see if she’s overloaded with activities or not getting enough sleep. You might want to ease up on extracurricular activities or try and earlier bedtime. Fatigue or burnout can really kill off a child’s motivation for attending school.
If you have to miss work because of a child’s illness, real or feigned, avoid any possibility of laying a guilt trip on your child on this score. That can have a nasty impact on your child’s psyche. Your child may be intrigued by the negative attention she receives and try to repeat the experience.
This may become a negative behavior pattern for your child.
If you decide your child is ill and keep her home and later realize you erred and she’s really not sick, avoid offering your child incentives for staying home in the future. For example, you might want to ban her from watching television or eating ice cream.
You can explain that these privileges will be restored when she returns to school.
A parent walks a tricky tightrope in the case of a child who plays sick or stays home when she’s not truly ill. You’ll want to offer your child understanding, sympathy, and recognition, while avoiding any hint of resentment. You’ll need to adopt a matter-of-fact attitude in which you neither punish your child nor reward her for what is essentially negative behavior.
Most important of all, you’ll want to remain sure of yourself in the handling of this situation, to give your child a sense of security, so she can deal with her demons, whatever they may be.
As a parent, you are her rock.
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