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by Dr. Susan Bartell


My friend declared herself the worst mother in the world!

   Her daughter woke up with a slight fever. She had an important business meeting, her husband was away, and her becoming-less-reliable housekeeper called to say she wouldn’t make it — car trouble. Feeling slightly guilty, she gave her daughter a dose of ibuprofen and took her to school.

   Have you ever taken a slightly sick child to school? What about to a birthday party? Most parents have! It doesn’t make you (or my friend) the worst parent in the world, but it’s certainly worth thinking about.

   There are times when you choose to take a somewhat ill child to school because it will seriously inconvenience you. Other times you don’t want to keep your child home because something special will be missed — a school trip, or an crucial test. You whisper conspiratorially to your child, “Don’t tell anyone you’re not feeling well. And try not to cough!”

   We all do it, but let’s face it, it’s not right. If you’re sick you should be home recuperating. And kids aren’t great at hand washing or mouth-covering. So you can be sure the germs are going everywhere. We rationalize: “He probably got it from one of these kids in the first place,” or “It’s floating around the classroom already.”

   But in addition to the actual germ spreading, what message are you giving your child when you send him to school or a social event when he’s under the weather? No, it’s not that your child will think you’re a “bad” mommy or daddy. He’ll survive a few hours in school. Worst-case scenario is that he’ll land in the nurse’s office for some TLC.

   First, there’s the implicit lie when you tell your child not to tell anyone she’s not well. She may even know to fib outright about it if asked. This contradicts what most parents teach their kids about being truthful, and it certainly puts a wannabe truthful kid in a double bind. It also conveys the message that it’s okay not to be truthful when it’s convenient for oneself. In addition, it confuses a child about when she should tell an adult that she’s not feeling well.

   Then there’s the message that it’s okay to subject other people to your contagious illness because you don’t want to miss something to which you were looking forward. Sometimes we’re afraid to break it to them that they’ll have to miss the party due to their cold or fever. It’s understandable, of course; who wants to have to tell a child he or she will have to miss something fun?

   Indeed, we hate to disappoint ourselves — which is why we take our sick kids to school so we don’t have to miss our own important events. But is this the right way? Sometimes missing a party or an important event is an unavoidable part of life. In fact, if we teach our kids to handle it now, they will become adept at coping with it — probably more so than we are able to do. They’ll be able to deal with missing a big meeting at work if it’s absolutely necessary.

   Perhaps then when they grow up, they won’t feel the pressure to take their sick kids to school.

DR. SUSAN BARTELL is a nationally recognized child, teen and parenting psychologist and award-winning author, based in Port Washington. Her latest book is Dr. Susan’s Kids-Only Weight Loss Guide: The Parent’s Action Plan for Success. Find out more at www.drsusanbartell.com.

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