My husband brags about how he had perfect attendance in school. And while I know that, in many ways, this is just another sign of his freakishly perfectionist tendencies and strong immune system, it got me to thinking about how we raise our own two sons. When they are sick, what kind of expectations are we putting on our kids, whether directly or indirectly? In our society, we are often told to power through when sick. And this can be seen as some sort of badge of honor – suck it up and keep going even when you are sick. But when we push our kids (or ourselves!) to keep going, what message are we sending them?
First of all, we may be telling them to ignore signs that they need to rest. Our bodies shouldn’t always be pushed, especially when we are young. If my children need to sleep something off, I let them. While they often have a simple cold, some childhood illnesses can turn serious if untreated or not allowed to run their course with proper rest. I want my kids to learn to listen to their bodies, not outside pressures or their desires to not miss out. This also builds in them the confidence to be able to speak up for themselves when they know something is off with their health.
Secondly, we’re telling our kids to go out there in the world and share their germs with others. I’m pretty sure every parent can speak of a time when they wish someone else had kept their kid home instead of infecting the rest of the class with the stomach bug. Look, I get it. I’m a working mom, too, and there are times when I just want to give my kids some Tylenol and send them off to school. Maybe there were even a few times when I did just that. But being respectful of others and keeping your children home helps keep others well. And aren’t we teaching a bit of the golden rule here, too?
I certainly want to teach my kids to be resilient. I want them to have the motivation and determination to show up and get through things, even when it may be tough. But this is, obviously, within reason. I don’t want to raise my children to feel that they need to pretend they feel good, for fear of disappointing me. On the flip side, I don’t want them to have an expectation that they can just play hooky when they don’t feel like showing up. My older son just started testing me with the ‘I don’t feel good’ (enter fake cough) game. At just three, he’s got that one figured out!
We live in a world that is all go, go, go. They will get enough of that as they get older. We will get to a time when they will have to go to an important exam with Kleenex in hand, hoping to do their best despite a nasty head cold. We will all face situations where we have to make our best judgment call about how sick we actually are. I don’t want my kids to have to worry about that for a while, though. As the parent, I get to make that call. I only hope that I make the right one and strike the right balance of teaching them to persevere while also letting them know it’s ok to listen to their bodies and stay home to rest now and then. And if I am lucky enough to be the one home with them, maybe they’ll even let me snuggle them a bit. After all, we all need to take a sick day now and then.
How do you decide when to keep your kids home? At what age do they get a say in this decision?