Are They Really Ill?

When I was at school I loved days off when I was ill – providing I was just ill enough to merit a day off! I didn’t particularly being sick! I can remember being off circa P4/5 – I’d have been about 8 or so – just in the run up to Christmas. As a result, regular TV had given way to the Christmas scheduling, so I could lie on the sofa at watch Laurel & Hardy and Jonny Weismuller’s Tarzan. Bliss!

As a parent though, I take a slightly different view of it of course. When Matthew and Daniel say they are feeling poorly in the morning, our first thought is that they are faking it. Maybe a bit unfair on them, but generally accurate. Of course, there have been times where that’s backfired spectacularly. On one occasion, Daniel complained about a poorly tummy before we took him to nursery. I suspect Matthew had been off ill about that time, so I think jealousy had taken over, and he fancied a day off. Less than an hour after dropping him off, we got a call to say he’d been very sick! Maybe he was being truthful after all!

Since then, we’ve become much better at assessing their general behaviour and demeanour to judge whether or not they’re ill. If Daniel starts lolling about, it’s a sure fire sign that he’s unwell. He’s such a livewire that even when he’s poorly, he’ll try to keep going at full speed. Any slow down, and I’d be sure he was being truthful if he complained about being unwell. Matthew is slightly harder to judge. As he’s matured, he’s much more capable of lounging to watch TV. But if he comes to sit with you, and tries to cuddle, it’s a good sign he’s coming down with something. Matthew is resistant to physical contact – a real nuisance when he needs help when he’s hurt – so when he instigates it, its either his way of apologising for something, or he’s ill.

This week though, Matthew has had an upset stomach. It got to the point on Tuesday evening that we decided to keep him off school on Wednesday. He was delighted of course. I asked what he’d do, and he’d already planned TV, computer, eating sweets. Fair enough – apart from the eating sweets bit. Daniel talked to him about it while we were on the trampoline. He asked Matthew if he’d miss his friends being off. Matthew finds making friends very hard, so he wasn’t bothered. Daniel announced he’d not like being off as he’d miss his two buddies. Then he said something quite sad. He said he’d like being off as it would mean he’d not be bullied. Kind of desperate that a 5 year old would prefer to be off sick than risk being a victim.

It kicked off another discussion about what to do if he was bullied. We tell the boys the simplest of advice – speak to an adult at the school and tell your teacher. We’ve generally found that when an incident is reported immediately then the boys can get some reassurance that its being dealt with, and that they are being protected. Sadly, that’s not always the case of course, hence Daniel’s reaction.

Its given us another part of the equation in working out if they are really unwell enough to prevent going to school. We know they are conscious of the fact they can be targets for bullies, although thankfully it doesn’t appear to be systematic and persisitant. But for a boy who couldn’t wait to start school, when Daniel suddenly complains of being unwell, its time for those alarm bells to start ringing.


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