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Lots of Sick Days? Maybe Your Child Is Avoiding School

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Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: Your child may be too young to pull a full-on Ferris Bueller, but it's not uncommon for some kids to whine and cry and say they feel sick when Monday morning rolls around. The universal tendency to want to stay in bed and eat grilled cheese accounts for a lot of sick days, of course, but what if your child always seems to be sick -- or too sick for school, anyway?

sick kid
Writing in the New York Times, pediatrician and author Perri Klass remembers one such patient, whose frequent visits -- and mother's frequent requests for "doctor's notes" -- finally prompted Dr. Klass to dig a little deeper into why this child was avoiding school. 

Some kids miss a lot of school because they genuinely are sick -- many with poorly managed or undiagnosed chronic illnesses. But it's always a sign of something when a kid misses school frequently. "Absenteeism," Klass writes, "becomes a kind of red flag, a signal that something has gone wrong in a child's health or emotional life, or within the family or in the school itself." 

According to Klass, kids can have a lot of reasons for wanting to avoid school, ranging from something specific (like being bullied) to something more global (like an undiagnosed learning disability or anxiety disorder). It's up to parents and doctors to probe gently and see what's making a child so determined to stay out of school. 

Although the situation can initially seem laughable (like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"), the stakes can be high: A child who avoids school for a passing, fairly trivial reason may find him/herself falling behind academically. The child whose case Klass discusses in her article, for instance, came very close to having to repeat the grade. It's easy to see the life-changing negative consequences that can play out over time. 

So if your child frequently fakes a sore tummy on school mornings, you may want to take him/her to the doctor, and then have a good long talk. It might not be the most comfortable conversation you've ever had, but the payoff will be worth it.


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