So I woke with my face feeling all dry and stretched out, possibly because I was too lazy to wash my face last night, and I had this horrid taste in my mouth. I got up to have breakfast and ate it alright, but as I sat on the couch my tummy felt weird and it was far more comfortable to lay on my bed than continue on with my morning routine. Fortunately, at 42 years of age, I get the right to declare when I feel sick and should just go back to bed. When my husband asked me what was wrong - my only explanation was 'I just feel yuck'.
There was no cough, no sniffly nose, I wasn't threatening to vomit everywhere and I wasn't covered in a strange spotty rash. To the average observer, you would think I am totally fine to get on with my day and complete whatever work I needed to. However, if I had decided to go ahead with the coffee date I had planned with a lovely friend, went shopping and started cleaning the house, it would not have been pretty. I would have felt a whole lot worse at the end of the day.
The same thing has been happening with my own children for the past 3 weeks. Some days my son complains of a headache, other days its a tummy ache, other days he is just tired and irritable. My daughter complains of a sore tummy most nights and often a sore throat. She gets anxious if she looks at the clock and sees that it is past 8 p.m. She worries that if she doesn't get enough sleep, school will be a difficult experience in the morning. As I tuck my children into bed at night, they ask me if they'll be allowed to stay home if they feel sick in the morning. I reply with "we'll wait and see".
Of course, the poor children wake up the next day with the same vague symptoms that don't really seem to warrant staying home, and so they obediently get themselves ready for school and ultimately survive the day. They report feeling unwell at various points of the day, but not enough to warrant going to the nurse, and if they do, they are sent back to the teacher. There's no cough, wheeze, vomit, temperature or spots.....
I've been to the doctors twice in the last two weeks, hoping that they can provide the Latin name for what they are suffering from, however, there is no medical term that succinctly identifies 'mid-term two, start of winter exhaustion'. I have no medical experience except for First Aid and anaphylaxis training, but I wish to patent the phrase 'mid-term two, start of winter exhaustion'. It's a real illness I tell you. We've had it for three weeks now and it's not going away.
It got to the point last week where my husband and I agreed that the children are just miserable and going to school day after day when they are feeling off was not doing anyone any favours. Imagine sitting on the floor with your legs neatly crossed, listening to the teacher whilst your tummy feels just a little achy. Going to the music room with a vague headache that just comes and goes as it pleases. How can you learn when you are struggling to feel 'yourself' - it's pretty tough isn't it?
As adults, we have the authority to declare ourselves unwell and stay home from work, but our children can't. Perhaps if they possessed the vocabulary to clearly explain their symptons, they may be able to better convey to us why they should stay home. But they don't and in the absense of observable symptons, we send them along anyway.
I wonder what the long term impact is of sending children to school when they are not quite 100%? How do they feel about their learning when they are experiencing physical discomfort at the same time? Do they begin to fear certain subjects, because the physically activities or noise involved make them feel unwell? Do they stop asking to go to the nurse because they know they will just be sent back to the classroom anyway?
I have lot of friends who tell me that they would have to be practically dead before their parents would let them stay home from school. I think the same is still true, especially as keeping your children home from school may also mean that a parent has to stay home from work to look after them. However, school is far more intense and rigorous than it was 20 plus years ago. The amount of activities children switch between in a day and the high level of attention they need to maintain through the day is exhausting at the best of times. Trying to keep up when they are feeling even a little off must be near impossible.
So in our household, we are lowering the standards for what qualifies for a day of school. We are recognizing that no matter how non-descript the symptoms may seem to us, the feelings are very real, and possibly very scary, for our child. We are keeping in mind that our children need adequate time to recover from an illness before being sent back to school. We are learning to appreciate that regular emotional meltdowns and other signs of tiredness also qualify for a day off school.
I know, I know, I can hear the rebuttals now.....
1) Who is going to look after our children when we have to work and get on with other tasks?
I don't know the answer to that as each family is different.
A few things to think about though:
- If your child comes home from school feeling 'off', maybe organise a family member or friend to look after your child the next day to give them a rest day.
- If your child is struggling with tiredness and illness, you are also at risk of catching any illness they may have. It is better for you and your child to both take the day off and engage in some self-care rather than pushing yourselves until you both fall in a heap.
- Speak to your employer about working from home or flexi-day options for when your child is sick.
A couple of years ago, I was working full-time whilst my children were in Prep and Year One. My daughter developed persistent tummy aches, but because I was so committed to doing my job to the best of my abilities, I rarely took a day of to attend to my daughter. In hindsight, I realized that my daughter was simply exhausted and some regular mummy days would have got her through the tiring phase of her prep year.
2) Won't my child miss out on important work if I give them a day off?
- Even if your child is at school, they aren't going to be getting much benefit out of the work anyway, Most teachers are very happy to keep a copy of all activities and material they cover whilst your child is away, Generally, a day of primary school missed can be caught up on with 45-60 mins work at home with an adult
- Secondary school students can email teachers and ask them to send through any work they can complete whilst they are home
- Concepts are taught and re-taught throughout a child's education. A concept that is missed through a few days of absense will be retaught in the coming months or years anyway.
3) Won't my child start 'faking' their illness just to get time off school?
- Most parents can tell if their child is in genuine discomfort or if their child is 'having them on'.
- If a child is too sick to go to school, it is wise for a parent to enforce a genuine rest day. This means no trips to the shops, no sitting in front of the tv for hours. It is a time of sitting in bed and reading or quietly playing. A child who is not genuinely unwell will quickly return to school if they find that home is not an amusement centre during school hours.
- If a parent takes the time to get their child to stay up to date with their school work when they are at home, the child will learn that staying home does not make them exempt from completing their schoolwork.
During these cold winter months, let's cut our children a bit of slack. A few days off here and there isn't going to jeopardize their future. However, it will give them time to rest and recover to that they can truly enjoy school when they are there.