Too sick for school?

There have been many times as a mother where I’ve desperately longed for a crystal ball. Perhaps none so prevalent, though, as those mornings when one of my girls says, “Mommy? I don’t feel good.”

Sudden-onset upset stomach. A vague headache. Sort-of sore throat. Any one of these maybe-minor (or maybe not?!) symptoms leads to the pressing question: Is she too sick to go to school?

Now I’m not talking about the big stuff. Any school nurse will tell you that if a child is running a fever, coughing up a lung or vomiting, he or she needs to go straight back to bed. I also draw the line at any unexplained rash, heavy congestion or possible pinkeye or lice infestation.

The mornings that trip me up are when an otherwise-healthy daughter sits picking at her breakfast and complaining that her belly “just started hurting.” Is it stomach flu? Stress? An overwhelming desire to snuggle in pajamas and watch “My Little Pony”??

No parent wants to send a sick child to school. At the same time, even work-from-home moms like me feel the pressure of trying to restructure an entire day to care for a child who may or may not be faking it.

Some tips I’ve picked up over the years:

  • Stomach “pain” can mean many things, including hunger. My older daughter came home several times in second and third grades before her trouble-shooting teacher advised that she might not be eating enough lunch. A stash of granola bars in the nurse’s office cured this little problem.
  • Additionally, many “bad stomachaches” have magically gone away after a few minutes on the pot. Enough said.
  • Countless headaches have been miraculously cured by a big glass of water, juice or Gatorade. Failing that, some fresh air, a short neck massage or cold washcloth/ice pack will help about 90 percent of the time.
  • Speaking of ice packs, they are the cure-all for simple bumps and bruises. My mom advises to keep a healthy stash of colorful Band-Aids on hand, even for wounds that aren’t bleeding: “Band-Aids are cheap,” she says. “And they work.”
  • If you haven’t already, introduce yourself to the school nurse or health aide at your child’s school. And even if your child isn’t a frequent visitor of the health room, maybe show your appreciation by doing something nice, like donating several pairs of stretchy sweatpants.
  • I would never advocate giving unnecessary medicine to a child. But sometimes (like this morning, ironically) a Luden’s throat lozenge can make the difference between a kid whimpering or skipping off to third grade. Just saying.

Last thought: Nobody is perfect. A mother’s kiss might be the best way to detect a fever, but that’s not to say that we won’t make a bad judgment call on occasion. Nobody knows your child better than you do, so trust your instincts and do the best you can. Because even with all the parenting gear on the market today, I’ve yet to see a single store carrying crystal balls.

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