Sick or Pretending? How to tell if your child is too sick for school

homesickLet’s face it; sometimes kids exaggerate their symptoms in order to get a day off from school.  But how do you determine if your child is really too sick to attend school or pretending to be sick?

For the sake of their own health needs, as well as to limit the risk of exposing others to illness, below are sure signs of when a child is too sick to attend school:

  • Vomiting twice or more over a 24-hour period or being unable to tolerate normal food and drink, or both
  • A sustained temperature of 101 degrees or higher (in newborns and young children it can be lower than 101 degrees)
  • Coughing  which is lasting, severe and/or causes breathing difficulty
  • Repeated bouts of persistent/severe diarrhea for at least a day
  • Sustained abdominal pain
  • Open sores on the mouth
  • A skin rash or red eye from an undetermined cause
  • Head lice or scabies
  • Other contagious conditions which include, but are not limited to, strep throat, pink eye, chicken pox, impetigo, etc.

If your child is sick, be sure to contact and follow-up with your family physician or pediatrician to determine the best treatment.

If it turns out your child isn’t actually sick, but is trying to skip school by saying so, there may be underlying problems worth discussing.  Try getting to the root of the issue by talking to your child and asking about these issues:

  • Bullying: Perhaps your child is too embarrassed or scared to admit that he or she is bullied at school.  If you’re concerned that this is the case, speak with your child one on one.  Let your child know that skipping school won’t solve the problem, and come up with a plan together that involves your child’s school leadership.  If the bullying is serious, it is wise to meet with your child’s school counselor, teacher(s) and the principal to discuss solutions to the bullying.
  • Missed Homework:  Maybe your child remembered last minute that he or she forgot to complete an assignment or project.  If so, speak with your child about the importance of being timely and taking responsibility for completing assigned school work.  Explain that skipping school won’t solve the problem and come up with ways for both of you to work together to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.  Planners, calendars and homework/backpack checks may help to prevent future missed work. As a parent you will need to stay on top of this to ensure success.
  • Separation Anxiety: Your child may feel and complain of symptoms, but not due to a flu bug or other evidence of health problems.  Perhaps he or she has a queasy stomach due to being anxious or worried about being away from his or her parents.  Talk about your child’s feelings to find ways to make school easier to get used to and remind him or her that the feelings will pass as you work on it together. Assure the child that they are loved and you have every confidence that they will make good friends and do well.

Dr. Jann Caison-Sorey, is a pediatrician and the senior medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Photo Credit:  Phillip Capper

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